Anniversary of 1906 San Francisco Earthquake--what about next time?
April 18, 2018 10:35 AM   Subscribe

On the anniversary of the April 18, 1906 devastating San Francisco Earthquake, long lost photos and footage have come to light providing new looks at the devastating aftermath. Meanwhile, according to the New York Times: San Francisco lives with the certainty that the Big One will come. But the city is also putting up taller and taller buildings clustered closer and closer together because of the state’s severe housing shortage. Now those competing pressures have prompted an anxious rethinking of building regulations. Experts are sending this message: The building code does not protect cities from earthquakes nearly as much as you might think.

And Nature explains that tremors in Nepal and New Zealand help scientists to predict how a magnitude-7.0 quake would affect the California city.

Smithsonian has asked What Will Really Happen When San Andreas Unleashes the Big One?

A Map Tour of The Great SF Earthquake.
posted by MoonOrb (37 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 


Between this and the possibility of a huge tsunami flattening Seattle, the west coast and the future are really scary.
posted by entropone at 11:09 AM on April 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


Which will happen first:
- The Big one
- Tsunami flattening Seattle
- Yellowstone caldera blows

Makes me wonder what the futures betting exchange says on the topic..
posted by k5.user at 11:55 AM on April 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


Thank god nothing bad like this will ever happen to Portland. That's why I can feel secure in my 1920 brick apartment at night.
posted by Auden at 11:57 AM on April 18, 2018 [7 favorites]


Thank you all for reminding me (.8 miles from the Hayward Fault) to get earthquake insurance...
posted by suelac at 12:05 PM on April 18, 2018


The Big One is on its way, but the way of singling out SF for building tall buildings in that NYT piece sounds like a hit job to me. Another manifestation of SF's pathological, wealthy resident NIMBYs, trying to prevent high-rise office buildings that spoil their views and high rise residential buildings that might be cheap enough that the undesirables would move back into town.
posted by tclark at 12:07 PM on April 18, 2018 [7 favorites]


The Principia Discordia 4th ed was published in San Francisco, "On The Future Site of Beautiful San Andreas Canyon."

Hey, maybe liberal preppers can move north and inland and flip Nevada and Idaho.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:07 PM on April 18, 2018 [5 favorites]


> high rise residential buildings that might be cheap enough

Ha ha ha ha ha ha!
posted by rtha at 12:10 PM on April 18, 2018 [13 favorites]


Honestly, the only way we'll have affordable housing prices again is after a major earthquake when, after being deprived of wireless networks for 48 hours, the techbros decide Phoenix is the place to be.

We will be able to house working class and homeless in the deserted buildings that formerly housed startups. Of course the economy will be in ruins, but oh well.
posted by happyroach at 12:16 PM on April 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


If it’s timed right, the Big One will arrive just as the last worker has to move out, and the Grest Tech-Bro Culling will be achieved, so the terrible cycle of Rent and Gentrification can begin anew.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:18 PM on April 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


This post reminded me of a 5.2 that happened in Illinois a few years back, that woke me from a deep sleep, scared the cats, and broke a piece off the chimney of my house in South St. Louis. Scared the bejesus out of me, and just a 5.2!
I decided to look up when, exactly, that occurred.

As it turns out, that even was *exactly* ten years ago today.

Kismet?
posted by notsnot at 12:21 PM on April 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


Between this and the possibility of a huge tsunami flattening Seattle

A huge tsunami from the Cascadia subduction zone will devastate the outer coast, but WILL NOT HIT SEATTLE. There was an excellent, well-written article about all of this; i just wasted a bunch of time trying to find it but am only finding lightweight news articles that say the same thing but aren’t worth linking here.
posted by D.C. at 12:25 PM on April 18, 2018 [6 favorites]


The Big One is on its way, but the way of singling out SF for building tall buildings in that NYT piece sounds like a hit job to me

I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I recently went through a 7.1 earthquake where significantly fewer than 10% of the buildings in my city fell down, and it was still a major humanitarian disaster. I think that the article and its illustrations speak for themselves. Did you read the part about the millennium tower already experiencing significant subsidence?

The issue may play into the hands of rich NIMBYs who are rightly disliked, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean that it can be safely ignored. The earthquake of your enemy is, sadly, still your earthquake too.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 12:29 PM on April 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


D.C., you're probably looking for this New Yorker article.
posted by minervous at 12:30 PM on April 18, 2018


Thank god nothing bad like this will ever happen to Portland. That's why I can feel secure in my 1920 brick apartment at night.

I can't tell if you're being facetious. Portland's "Big One" is supposed to be bigger than San Francisco's.
posted by aniola at 12:34 PM on April 18, 2018


Echoing DC: Tsunamis aren't a problem for the big Cascadia quake--the Sound provides a big buffer. Seattle CAN have a Tsunami from the Seattle Fault, but neither the 1949 example (6-8 feet) or the example we know about from around 900AD from Native American accounts and geological evidence (16 feet) would cause citywide devastation because in most areas the ground rises up very sharply. Disastrous, yes, apocalyptic, no. DC might be thinking about this Slate article responding to the New Yorker article.
posted by foxfirefey at 12:41 PM on April 18, 2018


No, there was one much better than the Slate article (which i was including as one of the “lightweight” ones). It was long, in-depth, and had excellent diagrams.
posted by D.C. at 12:47 PM on April 18, 2018


DC, are you thinking of the article entrepone linked above? 2015 new yorker The Really Big One. very well done.

foxfirefey, although the PNW cities are not at direct risk of tsunamis, the coastal damage will be devastating. look into Brian Atwater's early research of the CSZ history: submerged forests, evidence of major subsistence and flooding...

I'd far rather be in SF for the next big one than Portland or Seattle.
posted by supermedusa at 1:06 PM on April 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


In the last six months of living in Mexico City, the earthquake siren has gone off, on average, once a month. The really disastrous quake was on the 19 September last year (from our perspective - other quakes caused widespread devastation in the south). By horrible irony, this date was the 32nd anniversary of the 1985 quake that killed 5,000-10,000 people. In a way, this was lucky. There had been an earthquake drill that morning - an annual tradition - only a few hours before the quake. The other way that this was lucky was that in the aftermath of the 1985 quake, building codes had been significantly updated. Only 370 people were killed, and under 50 buildings collapsed, in a city of 20 million. One of the buildings was a school, however. And there were significant problems with homelessness, injuries, gasleaks, and lack of sanitation infrastructure.

Here’s what it was like, personally, to live through a 7.1 earthquake from outside a building: the ground shakes, violently, and you can see and feel waves moving through the earth. People are screaming and crying and car alarms are going off. Cars shake hard and fast on their suspension. Then trees start swaying violently. Then buildings. The cell network goes down, and then up and down intermittently as everybody simultaneously tries to contact everybody else. Viral videos of buildings falling circulate at the same time as viral messages asking not to share or watch videos, for reasons of bandwidth. Stories trickle in: a pregnant woman evacuating down 30 flights of stairs that were swaying like a funhouse, friends homeless as their building is too dangerous to reenter, friends who can’t contact their parents, elderly people forced to walk 15 km to get home.

It’s pretty fucking miserable, and this is in a city with relatively rigorous building codes.

Wikipedia article on the quake.

(There are also plenty of youtube supercuts of buildings falling down, for the curious.)
posted by chappell, ambrose at 1:10 PM on April 18, 2018 [10 favorites]


Sorry, I should clarify, I was responding to the specific assertions of a tsunami flattening Seattle, not saying that the earthquake wouldn't be a big deal:

The Cascadia earthquake, aka, the Big One, will produce an apocalyptic tsunami that will flatten the west coast and cause much devastation. It will not, however, flatten Seattle itself, though Seattle will face numerous other problems resulting from the quake and the situation will be dire even without the tsunami.

An earthquake on the Seattle fault can produce a tsunami that hits Seattle, but the problems resulting from that tsunami will also not flatten Seattle, though again the earthquake will cause many other problems.
posted by foxfirefey at 1:22 PM on April 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


Of nearly as much concern (to me, anyway) is a lahar - evidence exists that the last big one buried all of the Green River Valley (modern day Kent, Puyallup, Sumner, and many other 'burbs south of Seattle) with 490 feet of mud.
To quote from the article I linked:
"Lahars and debris flows look and behave like flowing concrete, and they destroy or bury most manmade structures in their paths.
Past lahars at Mount Rainier traveled as fast as 70-80 km per hour (45-50 mi per hour) and were as much as 150 m (490 ft) deep where confined in valleys near the volcano. "

Rainier doesn't have to erupt for this occur, the magma just has to get close enough to warm up all that ice/snow...
posted by dbmcd at 1:37 PM on April 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


I live in Tokyo, and over the years I have learned a LOT about earthquakes. There are two (more?) main types of earthquakes: vertical and horizontal. When the epicenter is far away and/or deep underground, the ground will shake basically horizontally, side to side. If a building is up to code, they can take this kind of side-to-side shaking pretty well. The 2011 Tohoku quake was massive, and hundreds of miles away in Tokyo we felt it, but there was little damage because the shaking was side-to-side. Felt like being on a small boat during an ocean storm.

However, if the epicenter is directly under and/or close to the surface, you get a more up-and-down kind of shaking. This kind of shaking is highly unpredictable and difficult to "earthquake proof" a building for. This kind of quake is the most dangerous kind.

If you take the entire West Coast, I'd venture that the vast majority of buildings and infrastructure are not equipped for the vertical at all, and even the relatively milder side-to-side would be very bad. I think of moving back to the states at times and I would prefer to live on the West Coast, but the thought of a major quake there honestly scares me off.
posted by zardoz at 1:49 PM on April 18, 2018


But the city is also putting up taller and taller buildings clustered closer and closer together because of the state’s severe housing shortage.

I may be wrong, but I don’t believe the “severe housing shortage” includes $1.5 million high-rise condos. Just a guess.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:28 PM on April 18, 2018


Don't know about the 1906 quake (I'm not THAT old), but when the San Fernando/Sylmar quake happened on February 9, 1971, I was in my childhood bedroom about 10 miles from the epicenter looking out the back window as the water in our swimming pool sloshed out like a miniature tsunami. Then when the Northridge quake happened on January 17, 1994, I was less than 5 miles from the epicenter, asleep in a waterbed with my wife and dog (both of whom were more neurotic than me) and lived the tsunami myself. Keeping the pattern, I should have been right at the epicenter of a 6.5 quake around Christmas 2016, but I've moved 200 miles north-west of that area and have promised never to return. Tell everyone in Suburban L.A. "you're welcome" from me.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:14 PM on April 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


but I've moved 200 miles north-west of that area and have promised never to return. Tell everyone in Suburban L.A. "you're welcome" from me.

But dude, you moved right next to Diablo Canyon, the only operating nuclear plant left in the state.
posted by elsietheeel at 3:37 PM on April 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


Interesting comments. I was about 25 miles from the Sylmar quake in '71. I recall vividly that I was having a dream that a bulldozer was going to flatten the small wood frame house I was living in and wondering why no one had told me to get out.

Then I woke up and pictures were falling off the walls and the whole room was shaking and I could barely stand up and thought, "Holy ___, it isn't a dream! There really is a bulldozer going to flatten me!" I was totally confused and disoriented....

I lived in San Francisco for the past 20 years too and rarely went anywhere downtown and looked at those buildings and did not wonder about being up there in the "next" one....
posted by CrowGoat at 5:14 PM on April 18, 2018


on a long enough timeline the survival rate for everyone drops to zero
posted by entropicamericana at 5:40 PM on April 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


Also, something I heard from an architect aquantence: if you're in a tall building in an earthquake and it's moving around and swaying, that's a good thing. That energy is being wrung out of the structure. The danger is when buildings are overly rigid, which makes them crack.
posted by zardoz at 6:39 PM on April 18, 2018


you moved right next to Diablo Canyon, the only operating nuclear plant left in the state.
Yes, and I did so a year after the only Richter-6+ quake in the region about 40 miles north. But the Diablo Canyon-proximity location helped keep my rent low and even though they've discovered a new fault in the area, there have been no more quakes of any severity since I moved in. And they've scheduled Diablo to shut down in 2025. Still, as I noted elsewhere on the 'Filter, I came here with a Heart Failure diagnosed 25% chance of surviving ten years... 13 years ago. But as I say about my location: "Red skies at night, sailors delight. Green skies at night, nuclear plant engineers call your office."
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:58 PM on April 18, 2018 [6 favorites]


That map tour link is fantastic.

Can we expect a forthcoming San Andreas post on FanFare?

posted by ActingTheGoat at 9:02 PM on April 18, 2018


From: this page

-----excerpt follows-----

Actually, during the terrible Northridge earthquake at 4:30 a.m. on January 17, 1994 – (no jokes or humor in this paragraph, folks) – a friend of mine, Ed Bryant, was staying at Harlan's home, which, you should remember, is just below Mulholland Drive along the high ridge separating the Los Angeles basin from the San Fernando Valley, and Ed, thrown out of bed by the violent tremors, had to swim out of the house,. Everyone who escaped had to swim . . . swim through books and art and broken glass that filled the hallways to a depth of four feet.

Harlan himself was working at that early hour in his mezzanine writing area, above the long billiard room (shades of Mark Twain!) which is accessed through the low, beautiful hobbit door which is just the right size for Harlan but usually makes guests duck low, and at the first serious tremor he started to run down the stairway to the billiard room... when the real earthquake hit, traveling up to the ridgetop with a force equal, engineers later figured, of a negative six gravities . . . .

Harlan was launched up and over the stairway railing in the sudden darkness and then fell ten feet to the floor, his head missing the edge of the huge billiard table by less than an inch. Books and artwork were falling by the thousands. The billiard room is windowless and there was no light at 4:30 a.m.. Harlan lost consciousness for a few seconds and when he came to and started swimming his way up through the the books and papers – including thousands of pages of manuscript for the legendary and still-unpublished The Last Dangerous Visions which had been stacked up all around the mezzanine railing twenty feet above him – suddenly a heavy framed and glassed poster fell in the pitch blackness and struck him in the face, breaking his nose, giving him a serious concussion, and knocking him out again.

The Last Dangerous Visions and a ton of other literary and artistic treasures, now fluttering detritus, continued to fall until he was buried alive.

Harlan survived.
posted by hank at 9:57 PM on April 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


Did he sue the earthquake?
posted by thelonius at 3:00 AM on April 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


San Francisco has a new skyscraper that recently opened, the Millenium Tower, that was not built out of steel and built on piles driven down to bedrock like most other skyscrapers. Instead it was built out of cement and built on top of hard sand.

The result, as you might imagine, is that the skyscraper is leaning as the heavy concrete building presses down on the sand.

It scares me to think what will happen to this building in a large earthquake.
posted by eye of newt at 5:54 AM on April 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


An alternate view on the Millenium Tower.

One thing that I was impressed with after the Japan 2011 earthquake is their early warning system. Earthquakes can travel at 2mile/second, which seems fast, but that means that an earthquake in San Jose won't hit San Francisco for 25 seconds, which allows for a warning system. Here's a video of Japan's system in action, giving 27 seconds warning.

Mexico also has an earthquake early warning system. So why not California? My guess is a combination of the very slow moving USGS and the concept of perfect being the enemy of 'good enough'. They could have had a reasonably useful system out decades ago, but it isn't perfect, so nothing.

But they are finally coming out with one, though it won't be available to the public until this summer.

My nightmare is that either the Los Angeles or the San Francisco region will have their long-due large earthquake before that, then the pressure will be released, so when the app finally is available, it won't actually be needed for another 100 years.
posted by eye of newt at 6:25 AM on April 19, 2018


just realized the third link mentions the Millennium tower, which I also mispelled.
posted by eye of newt at 6:46 AM on April 19, 2018


Don't know about the 1906 quake (I'm not THAT old), but when the San Fernando/Sylmar quake happened on February 9, 1971, I was in my childhood bedroom about 10 miles from the epicenter

Are you....me?
posted by Sophie1 at 6:51 AM on April 19, 2018


I’ve only experienced one temblor in my life. But, it was in east-central Indiana, so, y’know, that was interesting.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:47 PM on April 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


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