Earthquake News

The Bay Area is "overdue" for the "Big One," according to experts, and the picturesque town of Alameda is a "house of cards" that might experience the worst destruction.

In the next years, the Bay Area will likely suffer an earthquake unlike anything it has experienced in decades, according to experts, and one town in particular faces the possibility of caving in on itself.

According to a research from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the cataclysmic event, known as the "Big One" by nervous seismologists, is expected to occur within the next seven years and might mean disaster for residents of picturesque Alameda.

The tiny community was previously a peninsula that was joined to Oakland by a small landmass that was excavated out more than a century ago to widen a shipping channel. 

Due to the addition of hundreds of acres of reclaimed land during the previous century, the town has continued to exist as an island throughout that time.

The early 1900s reclamation project, however, prompted scientists to repeatedly urge the 76,000-person municipality to reevaluate its earthquake preparedness. 

Speaking to a Bay Area newspaper, the USGS's director of earthquake sciences warned that if and when a major earthquake occurs, Alameda will likely take the brunt of the damage.

According to Christine Goulet of the USGS, if nothing is done, residents of Alameda could witness their neighborhood collapse before the year 2030. "With fill, it's kind of like a house of cards," she said.

Goulet, a UCLA graduate with a Ph.D. in civil engineering, claimed that the majority of the six-mile-wide landmass is vulnerable to liquefaction, a phenomena that happens when water-logged soil is shaken violently and causes it to lose strength and behave like a liquid.

She added that there should be greater cause for concern because it is possible that the damp marshland that was emptied from the San Francisco Bay's bottom in the early 20th century was not packed down properly.

'What happens is they dredge material from surrounding sea or bay, which contains a combination of clay and silt, and then they just drop that in without compacting it properly,' she explained of the procedure.

Goulet continued that, despite this less-than-ideal location, the majority of the small town is situated outside the original land mass, with hundreds of towering buildings lining the seashore - all well beyond the edges of its natural shoreline.

The town only has five points of entry, four of which are drawbridges that are virtually always raised, she claimed, leaving possible evacuees with very few options in the event of an earthquake.

The subterranean Tube, a 3.5-mile underwater conduit to Oakland, would be the best choice if you needed to escape the island quickly. 

Such a route is not safe in the case of a quake, and 'the Big One' would probably overwhelm it. A magnitude 6.7 or greater earthquake is referred to as the "Big One."

Only a small fraction of Almaeda's island is built on stable rock; the remainder is made of soft, pliable clay that hasn't had a thorough evaluation in more than a century. 

As a result, concerns regarding the city's structural stability have emerged—concerns that have gone unattended for decades. 

Additionally, the city lies close to the Hayward Fault, which experts believe to be the main cause for concern when estimating the possibility of an earthquake in San Francisco. 

Goulet said officials have not addressed the town's perilous positioning despite repeated warnings from experts like herself.

Even in the Golden State, so-called "Big One" earthquakes have become extremely infrequent in recent years; the last one to hit Los Angeles was in 1994.

The Northridge earthquake of 1994 occurred in less than 20 seconds, but it caused millions of dollars' worth of damage and claimed 57 lives. 

However, the accident was located several hundred miles from Northern California, which has the unfortunate reputation of having seen some of the biggest earthquakes in recorded history, the most recent of which had a magnitude of 6.9 and occurred in 1989.

The earthquake, known as the Loma Prieta earthquake because of its proximity to the same-named mountain in Santa Cruz, resulted in at least 57 confirmed fatalities and nearly 3,757 injuries. 

A large portion of Oakland was constructed on reclaimed land, which led to the collapse of a two-deck, multi-lane motorway that killed most of those people by crushing dozens of cars on its lower level and creating collisions on its upper level. 

A since-repaired portion of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was also demolished, resulting in one fatality. 

Experts at the time ascribed the collapses to the fact that both Alameda and Oakland, which both occurred on ground at a liquefaction rate of at least 3 percent, were at heightened danger of liquefaction.

Additionally, the location of the bridge collapse had an estimated risk of around 73 percent, which is comparable to Alameda's chance.

Since that time, California has defied all odds to avoid another "Big One," but Goulet advises Bay Area residents not to celebrate just yet.

Alameda's citizens, who live in a community that is nearly entirely built on reclaimed land, face a higher risk of liquefaction as well as a 70% possibility that one or more earthquakes with a magnitude of 6.7 or larger will happen before the year 2030. 

Goulet and others said on Monday that, similar to the Loma Prieta earthquake, the quake could cause buildings to once again tilt and sink into the ground as well as destroy important bridges and even tunnels.

This is especially concerning for Alameda, which has long permitted building and condo construction nearly entirely on its coastal, man-made areas. 

Apartments, offices, and other towering buildings line its picturesque south, east, and north beaches, all of which, according to Goulet, are situated in liquefaction zones at a risk of at least 73%.

A little area in the city's middle known as the remainder is just about 3% at risk.

According to documentary filmmaker and longtime Alameda resident Dennis Evanosky, who experienced the Loma Prieta earthquake, if Goulet's forecast comes true, the implications for the tens of thousands of people residing in those places will be disastrous.

All of those apartment buildings along the South Shore, according to Evanosky, are nothing more than soup.  

Everything on the waterside of Otis, everything on the waterside of Clement, everything on the waterside of Main and Central—all of that is man-made land. every single thing. among them, schools.

When compared with the most recent Big One in 1989, Evanosky said he sees similarities between the two events planned for Alameda, adding that the destruction will be worse because the city has refused to reconstruct some of the island. 

Evanosky criticized the lack of caution, saying, "The only difference between Alameda and San Francisco is that they are fully aware of what they're doing."

When asked about the city's apparent ignorance of the dire situation, Danielle Mieler, the city's sustainability and resilience manager, said: "I know when I bought a house in Alameda I looked at that liquefaction map." 

I reportedly declared, "I'm not buying anything that isn't in that original land area."

The situation is made worse by the fact that, like many other East Bay cities, Alameda's design is dominated by older wood-frame structures that would make ideal post-quake fire fuel.

If history is any guide, Goulet's anticipated earthquake might cause a fire comparable to the one that broke out during the 'Great' San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, which is the last true 'Big One' to strike the Bay Area (along with the Loma Prieta quake).

It had a magnitude of 7.9 and is regarded as one of the worst earthquakes in recorded history; it claimed at least 700 lives.

This number represents people from the Bay Area who died as a result of the original earthquake and the ensuing fire. The city's wooden homes at the time served as tinder for the fire.

Although the number 700 is frequently cited, experts now concur that the actual number of deaths was probably underestimated by a factor of 3 or 4.

Alameda's lack of dependable exit and entry ports and the absence of a neighborhood water reservoir make matters worse because in the event of a fire, there will probably be no water easily accessible inside the city limits.

The 23-square-mile isle is now not only at risk of being destroyed by a post-quake fire, but also at the mercy of places that have been more prepared, like San Francisco and the nearby city of Oakland.

The majority of Goulet's contemporaries agreed that completely rebuilding some of the island would be the best option for preventing extensive damage in the case of the next "Big One."

However, despite the reclamation effort taking place at a time when safety norms were nonexistent and the land was hastily packed, the local administration has made no effort to engage in such a campaign.

The USGS expert stated that similar attempts were made in Los Angeles, which was also built with fill and has undergone many liquefaction mitigation initiatives over the past century to make its soil thicker.

Goulet responded to the city's reluctance by saying, "You can remediate today," noting that after 34 years without a 6.7-plus earthquake, the Bay Area's probability of one is increasing with each passing day.

That is roughly two times as frequently as these quakes are thought to occur in the area, which are estimated to happen every 10 to 15 years. 

6- to 7-magnitude earthquakes would happen around once every 70 years before to the "Great" 1906 earthquake, but since the catastrophic Loma Prieta tragedy, such seismic activity has slowed down.

After the unusual calm, Goulet and experts predict a similar period of intense activity, with Alameda positioned to take the brunt of the inevitable catastrophe. 

That being said, the city has made some measures to position itself for the worst-case situation, most recently building a 160-foot pipeline in the event of a fire in the space separating it from Oakland. 

However, the measure offers little to combat the impending earthquake or earthquakes, with Alameda being by far the most vulnerable. 

The 1989 Loma impacted the San Francisco area of the Marina district, which was likewise constructed with fill. Similar to LA, the city has subsequently put in place tax-payer sponsored programs to improve the soil and lessen the likelihood of a liquefaction catastrophe.

Meanwhile, the construction of the Oakland pipeline was only just finished over the weekend and won't be ready for use until the end of the year.

Plans for a scheme to mitigate liquefaction have not yet been made public by the city.

Ready to retrofit?

Let’s make your home safer

Get a professional evaluation

Call 206-352-5644

Sound Seismic
7543 15th Avenue NW
Seattle, WA 98117

Contractor's license # SOUNDSL836ND

© 2024 Sound Seismic
Seattle Website Design