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Northridge Earthquake

Northridge Earthquake

Facts and Summary of the 1994 Northridge Earthquake Disaster

Earthquakes can neither be prevented nor controlled. They are devastating, not only by their sheer strength but largely as a result of their relative unpredictability regarding when they are likely to occur. Earthquakes occur naturally as a result of a stress build-up between the converging tectonic plates located just below the earth's surface. The rumbling of the ground and intense friction released is what results in an earthquake.

California is known to have experienced some of the strongest quakes in history with the primary reason being that it sits on the extensive fault line of San Andreas. Although forecasts from a few geologists prove there is a relatively small likelihood of quakes hitting California in the near future, there is still quite a bit of uncertainty.

Over the past decades, geologists have made remarkable discoveries, proving earthquakes in California date back millennia.

However, we will be looking into one of the recent and most costly California earthquakes in great detail.

Jan 17, 1994, Northridge Earthquake.

On the chilly morning of January 17th, 1994 at 4.31 a.m., a 6.7 magnitude quake that left Californians frozen with terror hit the San Fernando Valley, a densely populated area located approximately 20 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Witnesses who experienced this earth tremor described it as a sudden, terrifying upward and downward juggle, followed by an ear-splitting noise of brick buildings aggressively rubbing against each other. The primary cause of the quake was the sheer rupture of the Blind Thrust Fault. The Northridge earthquake, named after the San Fernando Valley, resulted in massive damages estimated at over 20 billion dollars. In addition to that, several people lost their lives.

Damages and Fatalities

Despite the most damage occurring in West San Fernando Valley, there were also losses 125 km from the valley, in the cities of Santa Clarita, Santa Monica, and Simi Valley, leaving thousands of people critically injured. Although there is uncertainty on the exact number of deaths, many sources give a total estimate of over 60.

• At Northridge Meadows Apartment alone, about 20 people lost their lives.

• A 46-year-old police officer, Clarence Wayne Dean, lost his life when his motorcycle plunged off a collapsed section of the Santa Monica freeway.

• At least 35 people succumbed to their injuries.

• More than 9000 people suffered critical injuries and over 2000 admitted in hospitals.

The quake damaged many gas and water pipelines thus resulting in fire outbreaks as well as floods, which destroyed a large number of homes, hence leaving an estimated 60,000 people homeless and without a supply of water.

Valley Fever Epidemic

Soon after the 6.7- magnitude quake struck, there was a violent outbreak of Valley Fever, a disease affecting the respiratory system as a result of inhaling fungus spores in the air. There were over 150 cases in a span of 8 weeks with the cause being that the vast dust clouds from the landslides carried the fungal spores.

Affected Healthcare

The quake damaged the structures of 11 hospitals, thereby rendering them unusable. As such, an influx in the populations of inpatients significantly increased the burden on the neighbouring hospitals which were fully functional. As a result, the legislature of the state of California passed a law which requires all hospitals within the state to ensure their Intensive Care Units are 100% earthquake resistant.


According to the U.S Geological Survey, California experiences one major quake, one every 140 years with the last one having struck exactly 140 years ago. The Survey has predicted a 60% probability of a seven magnitude earthquake occurring within the next 30 years.

Thirty years may seem like quite a long time to the residents of California, but it's hardly a tick of the clock once it strikes. The geologists are almost certain it will occur but are not sure when.