New study of impact of 1906 sized earthquake to
By Jason Bennert, Bay City News Service
April 9, 2006
If a major earthquake as strong as the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake
struck the Bay Area today it could cause approximately 5,800 deaths
and billions of dollars in damage and economic impact, according
A 2003 study overseen by the U.S. Geological Survey concluded
that there is a 62 percent probability that a magnitude 6.7 or
greater earthquake will strike the Bay Area by 2032.
"A repeat of the 1906 magnitude 7.9 earthquake, the worst
case scenario for the Bay Area, is estimated to result in about
5,800 fatalities if it strikes during working hours. This estimate
is comparable to the approximately 6,000 deaths caused by the
1995 M6.9 Kobe earthquake that occurred in the afternoon directly
beneath an urban area with a population of 1.52 million people,"
according to the study Earthquake Probabilities in the San Francisco
Bay Region: 2003-2032.
The 1995 Kobe, Japan earthquake caused an estimated $147 billion
in direct losses in addition to 6,000 deaths. In comparison, the
last major earthquake in California, the 6.7 magnitude 1994 Northridge
quake, caused approximately $20 billion in direct losses and 20
people were killed, according to the study.
The USGS plans to release an updated study that specifically
estimates what the impact of a 1906-sized earthquake would be
on the Bay Area on April 17, the day before the 100th Anniversary
of the Great San Francisco Earthquake, according to Mary Lou Zoback,
the co-coordinator of the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program in Northern
The last major Bay Area earthquake, the 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta
earthquake that interrupted the 1989 World Series, caused major
damage from Santa Cruz to Oakland including 63 deaths and more
than 13,000 injuries. It destroyed 366 businesses and more than
1,000 homes. In addition, approximately 3,500 businesses and 23,000
homes were damaged. The total economic loss from the earthquake
was valued at more than $16 billion by the Federal Deposit Insurance
Corporation in an analysis issued last year following Hurricane
If a 1906-sized temblor struck the Bay Area today it would likely
affect as wide an area as the Loma Prieta earthquake, according
to USGS geophysicist Brad Aagaard.
"We want to emphasize that a large earthquake such as 1906
is not just a San Francisco quake, but a Northern California earthquake.
Earthquakes greater than magnitude 7 are going to cause intense
shaking over a large area - everyone needs to be prepared,"
Aagaard said last month at the unveiling of a study of how hard
the ground shook in 1906.
The impact of the 1906 quake went far beyond the loss of life,
physical and economic damage, according to two Southern California
economists. It led to the Panic of 1907 and a fundamental change
in the U.S. banking system.
Economists Kerry Odell, a professor at Scripps College, and Marc
Weidenmier, a professor at Claremont McKenna College, in a 2001
research paper, titled Real Shock, Monetary Aftershock: The San
Francisco Earthquake and the Panic of 1907, linked the 1906 quake
to the 1913 establishment of the Federal Reserve banking system.
"The quake's impact manifested itself in international gold
flows, as British insurance companies paid their San Francisco
claims out of home funds in the fall of 1906. The capital outflow
threatened the fixed sterling-dollar exchange rate, leading the
Bank of England to raise interest rates and discriminate against
American finance bills. The resulting contraction pushed the United
States into recession, setting the stage for the 1907 Panic and
the founding of the Fed," according to Odell and Weidenmier's
The 1906 quake and subsequent fire in San Francisco caused an
estimated $350-$500 million in damage, approximately 1.3 to 1.8
percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product in 1906. In comparison,
the damage from the September 11 terrorist attacks that destroyed
the World Trade Center was less than 1 percent of the U.S. GDP,
according to the research paper.
The Odell-Weidenmier paper is available on the World Wide Web
The USGS 2003 study is available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2003/of03-214/.
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