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Archive for Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Earthquake highlights ongoing seismic risks

May 19, 2009

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— The latest earthquake to hit the nation’s second-largest city was a garden-variety temblor by California standards, rumbling through on a Sunday evening when most residents were home eating dinner or watching TV.

The magnitude-4.7 quake shattered more nerves than glass, and scientists say it could have been worse.

The quake, centered three miles east of Los Angeles International Airport, appeared to have ruptured a fault under the city that is capable of producing a damaging magnitude-7 temblor.

The shaking Sunday lasted about 15 seconds, but it was felt across a wide swath of Southern California, which has not had a disastrous temblor since the magnitude-6.7 Northridge earthquake in 1994.

Sunday’s quake released 1,000 times less energy than Northridge.

No major injuries were reported, though a person at a Starbucks in the coastal community of Torrance was taken to the emergency room with minor injuries. The quake caused minor property damage in beach towns south of the airport including a drapery business that had its storefront window knocked out.

Scientists poring through data say the quake appeared to have caused slippage of the Newport-Inglewood fault, one of a half-dozen major fault lines crisscrossing the heavily populated Los Angeles Basin. While the fault, which extends more than 46 miles from Beverly Hills southeast to Orange County, is not considered as dangerous as the San Andreas Fault to the east, scientists are worried because of its proximity to cities.

Rupture along the Newport-Inglewood fault caused the 1933 magnitude-6.4 Long Beach quake that killed 120 people and caused more than $50 million in damage. The shaking crumpled buildings, knocked houses off their foundations and badly damaged many schools.

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