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The Big One could be even BIGGER as scientists model worst case scenario

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California is overdue for the next big quake.

Further research into the San Andreas fault has revealed the fault is capable of producing a more powerful quake than predicted. With the fault overdue for the Big One, which scientists say should hit within the next 30 years, preparation is taking on a new urgency.

Most models of the quake assume a rupture from Palm Springs to the Tejon Pass, yet the rupture could extend much further.

Most models of the quake assume a rupture from Palm Springs to the Tejon Pass, yet the rupture could extend much further.

Highlights

LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - Following research published in April, scientists announced that the Big One, a massive earthquake due to hit California, was overdue, and would produce a 7.2 to 7.9 magnitude quake. Such large quakes happen semi-regularly along the fault, with the last one in 1857. In the thousand years before that, the quakes hit every 160 years apart, on average. Now, 2017 is exactly 160 years after the Tejon quake. These massive quakes have never taken more than 200 years to hit.

The stark conclusion means most people living in Southern California today, from the Central Valley to San Diego, are going to suffer the effects of this quake. In addition to quake insurance, people have been warned to prepare emergency supplies. An early warning system will be rolled out in 2018 to help give people a few second's warning when a strong quake is about to be felt.


Research has continued on the fault since April, and new findings suggest the coming quake could be even more dangerous than previously predicted.

Researchers have now modeled a variety of scenarios and found that the rupture could easily extend from Palm Springs in the California desert east of Los Angeles to Paso Robles, California, a small town in the middle of the state. Such a quake could produce an 8.2 magnitude quake, which would be many times more powerful than a 7.2 or 7.9.

When modeling quakes, many researchers simply model a single hypocenter. The hypocenter is the precise spot under the ground where the rock actually breaks and moves. The epicenter is the spot on the ground directly above the hypocenter. Most quakes fit this model.

However, sometimes and entire fault can rupture, and in such a case the fracture runs for miles, sometimes hundreds. The San Andreas is one place where that can happen, producing a megaquake that rips the ground from the Salton Sea to Paso Robles. The distance is about 300 miles, and the ground could be displaced by 30 feet meaning a road crossing the fault could be split into two, and the ends would be 30 feet from one another, within seconds.

The energy from such a quake would reverberate across the state and shaking would be felt across the entire American Southwest. But the most intense shaking would be felt in the Los Angeles basin, where millions of people live. The ground there is mostly gravel and sand, so the shaking will reverberate for several minutes after the rupture stops along the fault.

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Within minutes of the quake's end, aftershocks will begin.

Planners worry that Los Angeles will be cut off from water as the California Aqueduct will be severed. There will be no electricity. Collapsed buildings and fires will be so numerous; they will overwhelm first responders. Chaos and congestion will slow federal aid, and National Guard forces will have to hack their way into the center of the city.

Such an epic quake is not the norm for the San Andreas, but it is reasonably possible. The death toll could reach into the tens of thousands, and the disaster could easily be the worst ever to impact the United States. The fact is, the U.S. has never suffered such a powerful quake close to a megacity like Los Angeles.

Many Californians are oblivious to the danger they face. They are reluctant to pay for earthquake insurance. When earthquakes occur, they are often met with amusement, not respect.

Millions of Californians are about to learn a hard lesson.

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