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The Mega-Quake You'll Probably Never Feel

June 04, 2005|Brad Dickson | Brad Dickson is a writer based in Los Angeles.

How is everyone managing to hold up after the earthshaking news in late May that downtown Los Angeles could experience a horrific shaker -- in the next 3,000 years?

Quoting from the The Times' doomsday scenario: "Newly developed computer models applied for the first time to the Puente Hills fault beneath downtown L.A. suggest a 7.5 magnitude quake could cause as much as a quarter of a trillion dollars in damage and kill as many as 18,000 people."

The headline in the Los Angeles Daily News screamed, "Worst Quake Ever?" It was noted at the end of the report that your chances of being killed by lightning, a car accident or a heart attack are much greater than dying in a quake.

This was a huge news event. To put it in perspective, there were nearly as many cameras at the news conference as David Geffen trained on beach-goers on his formerly private beach fronting his Malibu estate. From the scary tones of our local TV newscasters you'd think it was raining or something.

But scientists say such a quake may not occur for 3,000 years. Well, let me rearrange my day planner.

Oh, drat the luck -- 3,000 years? Just when it appears that Los Angeles will be getting an NFL franchise, we have to deal with a major temblor. Retrofit that Rose Bowl now.

Oh, shoot. I just ordered new cable TV service, and 3,000 years from now the installer should be arriving, so now he may cancel. In 3,000 years, it looks like I will have finally squared my debt with the student loan people, and then we get hit with a mega-quake? As Alanis Morissette sings, "Isn't It Ironic?"

This quake could cause tremendous property damage. At the current rate of appreciation, in 3,000 years the median price of a Los Angeles home will be roughly $799 billion for a fixer-upper. If a house is leveled, with the high deductible for earthquake insurance, you can expect to pay the first $798.7 billion in rebuilding costs out of pocket.

Not a pleasant thought, is it?

Also worth noting: At the current rate of decline, Ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's approval rating will be a minus 8 jillion. The earthquake will have no effect on this.

The day this story broke, we were inundated with ominous maps in the newspaper and on local TV news in which computer models predicted where the damage would occur.

Bottom line: There have been about four strong earthquakes on this fault in the last 11,000 years. The chance of anyone in Los Angeles today being around for this event are quite small.

Yes, it could hit tomorrow. But the media devoting this level of coverage -- with the accompanying apocalyptic tone -- to an event that overwhelmingly will have zero effect on today's populace is a tad alarmist and subtracts from the real news: What Jacko ate for lunch. The prospects for the new Donald Trump University. The stunning charges leveled at the "runaway bride." And, of course, just how much Tom Cruise loves Katie Holmes.

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