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Study Raises Northridge Quake Death Toll to 72

December 20, 1995|KENNETH REICH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

No names appear in Durkin's report, however. "I am not authorized to use names," he said. "I can't even look at the data without an agreement of confidentiality."

As for the "other" causes of death, he reports, "Falls contributed to five fatalities. A 49-year-old man died when he fell or jumped from the sixth floor window of a downtown Los Angeles hotel. A 74-year-old woman perished from an aneurysm, which ruptured when she fell out of bed during the earthquake. An 88-year-old man fell during the quake and fractured his hip, thus triggering a fatal heart attack.

"Three others died of a combination of head injuries and heart attacks that the coroner's office determined to be earthquake-related. . . . Two separate fatal accidents happened at intersections where traffic signals had been disabled by power failures. A third person died when her car overturned after hitting an earthquake-caused street break. . . . A 91-year-old woman died of smoke inhalation when her mobile home was knocked off support jacks by the earthquake, which ruptured a gas line and started a fire."

Casualty rates by area were similar to those in the 1971 Sylmar quake but higher than in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, Durkin notes. He puts the Northridge fatality rate in the most affected area as 5.5 deaths per 100,000 population.

This compares with 5.2 per 100,000 in the Sylmar quake and 1.3 per 100,000 in Loma Prieta, which was centered in a less populated area. Durkin states that 67 were killed in the Sylmar quake (other sources have put that toll at 58) and 63 in Loma Prieta.

The Durkin report recalls that big quakes often generate disputes lasting for years over the number of casualties. Just in the past decade, for example, a San Francisco researcher has contended that the number of deaths in the great 1906 quake, often stated at 700 to 800, may actually have been in the neighborhood of 2,000.

But stating a number and gaining acceptance are often two different things. Although the OES spokesperson indicated considerable acceptance of the Durkin numbers Tuesday, the question is what state summaries of "significant California earthquakes," periodically updated, may say in the future on the casualties for Northridge. It is these summaries that usually determine what goes down in history.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Earthquake Fatalities

Researcher Michael Durkin gives these breakdowns of 72 Northridge quake deaths.

Reasons

Nonstructural Elements/Building Contents: 10%

Structural Failure: 30%

Other: 60%

****

Top 5 Causes

Heart Attacks: 30%

Apartment Building Collapse: 16%

Falls: 5%

House Collapse: 4%

Automobile Accidents: 3%

Source: Calif. Division of Mines and Geology

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