Massive quake could kill 2,000 San Diegans: study

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SAN DIEGO – Thursday's magnitude 8.2 earthquake in southern Mexico is a good reminder to San Diegans that massive tremors are possible, devastating and costly.

Ninety people were confirmed dead in the quake that struck just north of Juchitan, a city of Asuncion Ixtaltepec – off Mexico's southern coast. It was the most powerful earthquake to hit the country in a century. As many as 50 million people felt it.

A magnitude 8.2 quake is possible in Southern California near Los Angeles, a known region with seismic activity, according to a preliminary study.

San Diego's Rose Canyon fault could produce a magnitude 6.9 earthquake, kill 2,000 people and damage $40 billion worth of property, a team sponsored by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute found.

"Few people know that we have a fault running through our town," Dr. Jorge Meneses said.

The study also mentioned the potential of an offshore canyon to collapse, which could produce a tsunami that would threaten areas like the Silver Strand and San Diego Bay.

"This is not a prediction. This is just an estimate," Meneses said.


Geologist Dr. Pat Abbott agrees the fault is capable of producing significant quakes.

"Something that's a rare event, but...every few hundred years we could do a 6.9 magnitude earthquake," he said.

But Abbott says he questions the death toll estimate.

"Nineteen-ninety-four North Ridge earthquake, 6.7, killed about 60 people," Abbott said. "Go back to 1989, the World Series earthquake, that was a 6.9 exactly and that killed about 60 people. So now this says a 6.9 in San Diego is going to kill 2,000. Sixty, sixty -- how do we jump to 2,000?"

The study's leader says with more research, the estimates could change. But he wants the public to be aware of the estimates gathered so far in order to get policy-makers thinking.

"If we are prepared, we don't need to be scared, and raise awareness about it to the officials, authorities, decision makers so we can develop policies so we can reduce the impact of an earthquake in San Diego," Meneses said.

Meneses says there is still years of research to be done. They are also still trying to estimate the damage a quake that size could cause to Tijuana.

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