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8/12/2007

Massive quake 'overdue' in California's desert resort

California, USA
Massive quake 'overdue' in California's desert resort - California's next big earthquake could take place among the golf courses and weekend resort hotels of Palm Springs, a senior government seismologist has warned, raising the prospect of thousands of dead on Los Angeles's doorstep and long-term devastation akin to the crippling of the New Orleans region following Hurricane Katrina. The area is at least 150 years overdue for a major earthquake, based on historical patterns. It isn't unreasonable to expect a quake measuring close to eight on the Richter scale, strong enough to devastate homes, rip open and ignite oil pipelines, collapse freeways and expose even those who did survive to extreme desert temperatures without the benefit of heat in the winter or air conditioning in the summer. The force of a 7.8 earthquake in Palm Springs was also likely to topple buildings and create other forms of chaos in Los Angeles, whose outer suburbs begin 30 miles to the west of Palm Springs. Palm Springs and the surrounding Coachella Valley sit between two major faults - the San Andreas, which runs the length of California, and the San Jacinto. Stresses have been building up under both, raising the prospect of a quake in which the ground moves at ten feet per second. In the last major quake to hit the Los Angeles area, the Northridge earthquake of 1994, the ground moved at about six feet per second - enough to destroy and damage hundreds of homes but stopping short of a catastrophe. Major earthquakes had historically hit the Coachella Valley every 150 years, but for reasons nobody could explain it had been spared for the past 300. The Palm Springs area is far from the only part of California threatened by natural disaster. The whole Los Angeles urban area sits on a patchwork of seismic faults that threaten to shake at any moment. San Francisco is, arguably, even more at risk, not least because a powerful quake would quickly reduce parts of the city built on landfill to rubble and knock out the bridge system that is that city's transportation lifeline.
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