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Beverly Hills earthquake hit at intersection of 2 major faults

Instrumental Intensity Image

The small earthquakes that hit Beverly Hills this week struck at the intersection of two potentially dangerous faults that run through the heart of urban Los Angeles County. Both faults could trigger a powerful magnitude 7 quake. 

U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Doug Given said the quakes occurred near the junction of the Santa Monica fault, which runs underneath Santa Monica Boulevard and near Pacific Palisades, Westwood, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, and the Newport-Inglewood fault (which, despite its name, terminates north of Inglewood, meeting the Santa Monica fault in a T-shaped intersection).

The earthquakes that hit this week — a 3.2 on Monday, centered near Doheny Drive and Wilshire Boulevard,  and a 3.4 after midnight Friday, centered near Wilshire Boulevard and Beverly Drive — were relatively shallow. "As a result, they were strongly felt," Given said.

Both faults are quite long, meaning they are capable of producing a destructive quake. Because they run underneath the Westside and western L.A. County — heavily populated areas — there is "significant population at risk because of them," Given said. 

The Newport-Inglewood fault, beginning just off the Orange County coast and extending 50 miles northwest through Long Beach, Inglewood and into West Los Angeles, has been the subject of dire quake scenarios because it runs directly under some of the most densely populated areas of Southern California.

Movement along the southern part of that fault caused the 1933 Long Beach quake, a 6.3 temblor centered off Newport Beach that killed 115 people, mainly in Long Beach and Compton. That was the second-largest number of fatalities in a California temblor in recorded history. Damage to school buildings caused by that quake led to major steps toward earthquake-resistant construction in the state.

A study by the Division of Mines and Geology found that a quake along the Newport-Inglewood fault could cause blockage of the Hollywood Freeway at the overcrossings for Hollywood and Sunset boulevards, reduction of the capacity of Los Angeles International Airport to 30% for two days, the indefinite loss of 34% of all hospital beds in Los Angeles and Orange counties, the shutdown of five power plants for three days and impediments in water supplies.

A scenario simulating a 6.6 earthquake on the Santa Monica fault estimated that 54,000 buildings could be damaged and 85 would be damaged beyond repair. Under the scenario, a quake there could kill as many as 30 people and force the hospitalization of more than 200 people. 

In 2009, a 4.7 earthquake centered near Inglewood shattered some windows and caused ceiling tiles to fall in a movie theater. 

The two Beverly Hills quakes had no relationship to the recent large earthquake in Costa Rica.

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-- Rong-Gong Lin II

Map credit: U.S. Geological Survey

 
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