25 Years After The Northridge Earthquake, Is LA Ready For The Big One? On Jan. 17, 1994, a 6.7 magnitude quake rocked the suburbs north of Los Angeles, leaving 57 dead and causing more than $43 billion in damage. Officials worry LA isn't ready for the next big quake.
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25 Years After The Northridge Earthquake, Is LA Ready For The Big One?

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25 Years After The Northridge Earthquake, Is LA Ready For The Big One?

25 Years After The Northridge Earthquake, Is LA Ready For The Big One?

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Twenty-five years ago today here in Los Angeles, at 4:30 in the morning, the 6.7 magnitude Northridge earthquake hit. Fifty-seven people died as this area went dark, freeways were destroyed, buildings collapsed. It was one of the costliest disasters in U.S. history, causing over $40 billion in damages. Los Angeles was caught unprepared.

And decades later, there are still questions being asked about whether they are ready for the next one. KPCC's Jacob Margolis has been looking into this for a new podcast, called, "The Big One: Your Survival Guide," which is supposed to do what it suggests. It is to help people in Southern California get ready for the big one and also show how people might not be as prepared as they think. Jacob, welcome.

JACOB MARGOLIS, BYLINE: Hey. Thanks for having me.

GREENE: Let's just dig into this moment looking back 25 years ago. For people who are not familiar with LA, I mean, can you just put in context how big a deal Northridge was?

J. MARGOLIS: Yeah. So imagine you're laying in your bed. It's 4:30 in the morning. Presumably, you're sound asleep. And all of a sudden, this random force of nature that no one had predicted just rips you from it. You head outside. You see your neighbors milling about in kind of the dawn light as it starts to break, and they look like - it looks like a scenario from "The Walking Dead." And as the sun comes up, you can actually start to survey the damage. I talked to my dad about it - 'cause I was a bit young at the time - and asked him what he saw that day. And he actually let me know.

MARK MARGOLIS: I remember driving down one of the main streets, and there were broken gas lines, as well as broken water lines. There were also flames coming out of the water. Very surreal. You know? Burning water. I mean, how often do you see that?

GREENE: Wow. That's an image.

J. MARGOLIS: Absolutely. And it was chaos. And the entire time you're trying to recover from the quake, there's these aftershocks rolling through, one after the other. So there's this really deep feeling of some sort of, like, unknowable force just upsetting your life.

GREENE: Well, I mean, clearly, that was so destructive, you know, I'm afraid to ask. But talk about exactly what scientists are predicting in terms of the next big quake here.

J. MARGOLIS: There's an infinite number of scenarios, but one of the most studied is a possible 7.8 magnitude quake on the San Andreas Fault. And I asked seismologist Lucy Jones, who was the lead author for the "ShakeOut" report, which studied specifically that about the quake and how it compared to Northridge.

LUCY JONES: Northridge was an event that disrupted our community for a year or two. The big San Andreas earthquake is going to disrupt the lives of everybody in Southern California, and it could take us decades to recover what we lose.

J. MARGOLIS: So 7.8 versus a 6.7, which is what we saw in Northridge. We're talking about 44 times stronger than back in 1994.

GREENE: Forty-four times? I mean, are we - I mean, she said disrupting the lives of people for years. But I mean, are we talking about almost destroying much of Los Angeles?

J. MARGOLIS: It's going to take a lot to recover. I mean, we're looking at possibly 1,800 people could die, thousands could be injured. Big buildings could collapse, roads in and out of the area could be impassable. We could suffer losses in the hundreds of billions. And the most scary to me are the fires that are going to be caused by electrical and gas problems, which could spread just across the cities. And it's going to take 48 to 72 hours to get outside help in. There will not be enough emergency responders to fight all those fires and to help all the people that need help. And so that period of time to me is one of the scariest.

GREENE: Well, I guess real question, Jacob, is how ready is Los Angeles for something like that? Did they learn a lot of good lessons from Northridge?

J. MARGOLIS: They did. I mean, there's new building codes for hospitals, for freeways, for certain apartment buildings, as well as retrofit programs. And they're also working on improving really important things, like our water system, which will crack and break when the big one rolls through, most likely. That said, we have a long way to go. And overall, I think especially on the individual level, people are very unprepared.

GREENE: KPCC's Jacob Margolis is host of the new podcast, "The Big One: Your Survival Guide." Jacob, thanks.

J. MARGOLIS: Thanks so much.

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