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Repeat Of US 1906 Quake Would Kill Thousands Cost Billions

This April, 1906 image shows a general view from Nob Hill, Ruins of Hopkins Art Institute and Stanford's mansion in foreground following the San Francisco, California earthquake. Photo courtesy of US National Archives and AFP.
by Glenn Chapman
San Francisco (AFP) Apr 18, 2006
Thousands of people would die and more than 150 billion dollars in damage would be done if the "Great Quake" of 1906 struck San Francisco today, according to top engineers. The dire analysis was detailed in a report ominously titled "When the Big One Strikes Again" and released on Monday at a "100th Anniversary Earthquake Conference" in San Francisco.

The predictions came as state and city officials prepared to commemorate the centennial of the epic natural disaster, which struck shortly after 5:00 am on April 18, 1906.

Thousands of people were expected to cram downtown San Francisco for a pre-dawn ceremony on Tuesday featuring political officials and a handful of earthquake survivors.

The 1906 earthquake toppled buildings and ignited a "Great Fire" that burned for three days, incinerating much of what had been left standing.

The study of the likely consequences of an identical earthquake occurring today was commissioned by the US Geological Survey, the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, the Seismological Society of America and the California Office of Emergency Services.

The report said it was intended to help earthquake professionals devise ways that Northern California could "safeguard its extraordinary cultural and economic vitality and rebound quickly following the next major earthquake."

The lives of nearly all of the region's 10 million residents would be disrupted and more than 90,000 buildings would be damaged, the report concluded.

It was estimated that from 160,000 to 250,000 homes would be rendered uninhabitable.

The death toll would range from 800 to 3,400, depending on whether the earthquake struck at night while people were home or during the day when people tended to be in offices or shops.

Most deaths would be caused by the collapse of concrete or brick buildings that had not been modified to resist earthquakes, the study concluded.

Fires fueled by broken natural gas lines and other causes would take more lives and burn from five to 15 percent of the buildings in Northern California, according to the analysis.

"A conflagration similar in scale to the 1906 fire is possible and could cause an immense loss," the study warned.

"Considering all loss components, the total price tag for a repeat of the 1906 earthquake is likely to exceed 150 billion (dollars)."

Earthquake specialists at the conference created an "action agenda" that they believed could mitigate the predicted destruction, which they said would be on par with what was seen in Japan during the 1995 Kobe earthquake.

Governments and property owners should invest in bolstering vulnerable structures and make certain sufficient resources are in place to respond to the disaster and rebuild, the report concluded.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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San Francisco Quake And Fire Revolutionized Insurance World
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The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 led to insurance payouts worth 4.9 billion dollars (four billion euros) in today's prices and prompted enormous changes to the insurance industry, new studies say.

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