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Historic Earthquakes

Historic Earthquakes information

Major Earthquakes in California

Jan. 9, 1857

Fort Tejon

Coming in at 7.9 in magnitude, the 1857 Fort Tejon quake was one of the most massive ever in California. The Kern River started flowing backwards, fish were flung airborne from Tulare Lake, and a scar running 220 miles appeared on the surface of the earth. Only two deaths were recorded – Southern and Central California were sparsely populated at the time.

March 26, 1872

Owens Valley

The Owens Valley earthquake had an estimated magnitude of 7.8 and was strong enough to damage buildings more than 300 miles away. The death toll near the epicenter in Lone Pine, California, was 27, and almost every house in the settlement was destroyed. There were many aftershocks, including three major ones.

April 18, 1906

San Francisco

With deaths numbering approximately 3,000, the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 is still remembered today as the worst natural disaster to befall California. Besides the havoc wrought by the 7.9-magnitude quake itself, fires started immediately afterward and consumed around 80 percent of the city. The U.S. Army had to be called in to maintain order and provide relief. The inflation-adjusted cost of property damage is estimated to be in excess of $10 billion.

Jan. 31, 1922

West of Eureka

Striking off the coast of Eureka, this 7.3-magnitude earthquake was powerful enough to be felt from San Francisco to Eugene, Oregon. Damage was minimal, and no deaths were reported.

Jan. 22, 1923


This 7.2 MM convulsion took place off Cape Mendocino and was felt throughout Humboldt County and as far away as Reno, Nevada. There was widespread damage to chimneys and water lines but no fatalities.

Nov. 4, 1927

SW of Lompoc

Originating in the sea near Lompoc, this disturbance had a magnitude of 7.3. This part of California was almost uninhabited at the time, so it didn't disrupt human activity at all.

March 10, 1933

SE of Long Beach

With an epicenter just offshore of Long Beach, this disaster killed more than 100 people and caused about $40 million in property damage. Its magnitude was around 6.4. A silver lining came in the form of the Field Act, passed in the aftermath, which mandated that schools throughout California be constructed to be earthquake-resistant. The quake fortunately occurred after school hours; otherwise the death count may have been far higher.

May 18, 1940

El Centro (San Diego)

Striking near the border between California and Mexico, the 1940 El Centro Earthquake measured 7.1 on the moment magnitude scale. Nine people were killed, and the town of Imperial suffered so many building collapses that it looked as though it had been razed to the ground.

July 21, 1952

Kern County

A dozen people were killed and hundreds injured when this 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck the San Joaquin Valley. Its force was so great that 18-inch-thick concrete tunnels were cracked. More than a dozen aftershocks of magnitude 5.0 and higher continued to affect the area for more than a week later. Estimates of damaged property run in the ballpark of $60 million.

Feb. 9, 1971

San Fernando

Because of its proximity to major urban centers, the consequences of this calamity were severe. Freeway overpasses collapsed, and several hospitals were seriously damaged. Deaths totaled 65 with more than 2,000 injured. Half a billion dollars in damages occurred, including the rupture of many water, sewage and gas lines. The costs of this 6.6-level event could have been higher: The Lower Van Norman Dam came very close to breaching, but it held.

April 25, 1992

Cape Mendocino

This offshore earthquake was noticed in California, parts of Nevada and areas of Oregon. Despite its magnitude of 7.2, damage was light and consisted mostly of broken windows and store merchandise. Only six people were injured, and nobody died.

Oct. 17, 1989

Loma Prieta

This was the first earthquake to be broadcast on live television because it happened just minutes before game 3 of the World Series, which pitted the San Francisco Giants against the Oakland Athletics. With a magnitude of 6.9, this quake caused 63 deaths and more than 3,000 injuries. The Cypress Street Viaduct in Oakland collapsed onto a freeway, and many buildings were destroyed. The bill for the damages amounted to nearly $6 billion./p>

April 25, 1992

Cape Mendocino

After being struck by a main hock measuring 7.2 on the MMS, the community of Petrolia was hit by aftershocks measuring 6.6 and 6.5 the next day. No one was killed, but there were hundreds of injuries and property was damaged to the tune of perhaps $75 million.

June 28, 1992


Though this seismic shock reached 7.3 in magnitude, overall damage was slight as the affected area consisted mostly of the Mojave Desert. Still, there was a human cost: a little boy was killed by falling bricks, and two others died from heart attacks.

Jan. 17, 1994


With its epicenter directly below densely populated Los Angeles, this 6.7-magnitude tremor was well positioned to create destruction and chaos. Freeway damage, tumbling buildings and fires all contributed to the devastation. Estimates vary as to the value of the total damages, but most place it at $15 billion or more with high figures approaching $40 billion. The loss of life was comparatively minor – about 60 killed – partially because of the existence of earthquake-appropriate building standards.

Oct. 16, 1999

Ludlow (Hector Mine Quake)

Nobody died as a result of this quake notwithstanding the fact that it clocked in at 7.1 on the magnitude charts. This is because it struck a very remote section of the Mojave Desert in California. The only real damage suffered was a derailed train.


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