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On Shaky Ground : Southern Californians Know There's an Earthquake Coming--but Most Expect to Escape Unscathed

July 26, 1987|ROBERT WENKEM | From "The Edge of Fire," to be published by Sierra Club Books in October. Scientists agree that sometime within the next 14 years or so a great earthquake is likely to deliver a destructive blow to Southern California .

THE LAST DAY for Los Angeles and Orange County would have begun like any other--a foggy summer morning changing to smoggy sunshine by midday, jammed freeways clogging traffic on surface streets, immigrant workers pushing clothing through sewing machines in the garment district while others wash the glass walls on the downtown Bonaventure Hotel.

At Huntington Beach, surfers would test early-morning waves, while night fishermen walk off the Santa Monica Beach pier with a lucky catch. Disneyland's parking lot would fill with tourists anxious to experience Michael Jackson's Captain EO.

It is ironic that many of the desirable features making Southern California an attractive place to live are the result of major geologic movement long before the first orange growers arrived, thousands of years before even local Indians settled in the warm desert basin. It is understood as fact that if Californians voted on the issue, they would accept the risks of moving faults rather than move onto dull

flatlands east of the shaking state. Californians await disaster by preparing for it--a little.

Most Californians expect a major quake but are satisfied that they personally will escape injury. A statewide poll in California found that 62% felt they would be at risk from a large quake, but only 11% said they have serious concerns about the problem, and half of those respondents said they never worry. The human tendency is to assume injury will always happen to someone else, and Californians are no exception.

Copyright 1987 by Robert Wenkam. Reprinted by permission of Sierra Club Books.

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