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NR 2002-45
October 17, 2002

Contact: Ed Wilson
Mark Oldfield
Don Drysdale
(916) 323-1886

WILL A MAJOR EARTHQUAKE INTERRUPT THE WORLD SERIES?
STATE EXPERTS SAY IT’S UNLIKELY, THOUGH NOT IMPOSSIBLE

SACRAMENTO - The last time two California teams met in the World Series, the action caused by the San Andreas Fault overshadowed the action on the field.

The Oakland A’s swept the San Francisco Giants in the 1989 Series, but the celebration was subdued. Just before the start of Game 3 on October 17, a magnitude 6.9 earthquake with an epicenter about 60 miles south of San Francisco struck.

The San Francisco Giants and Anaheim Angels will open this year’s World Series on Saturday in Anaheim. It’s the first time since 1989 that two California teams have met in the Series.

Is that an omen? How likely is a big earthquake during the 2002 World Series?

The odds of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays meeting the Milwaukee Brewers in next year’s Series are probably greater than the odds of a seismic interruption this year, according to scientists from the California Department of Conservation.

“The odds of a major earthquake occurring in a particular location during a specific two-week window are astronomically low,” said DOC Director Darryl Young. “Both the Giants’ and Angels’ ballparks are very close to major faults, but we stress being prepared over worrying. Our scientists and their colleagues from the USGS and academic institutions work with the engineering and planning communities to ensure that we are as ready as possible should an earthquake strike.”

Casual baseball fans may not recall that Dave Stewart was the MVP of the ’89 Series -- which was delayed 10 days by the Loma Prieta earthquake -- but they probably remember some of the devastation caused by the quake: part of the upper deck of the Bay Bridge collapsing into the lower deck, a section of the Nimitz Freeway in Oakland totally in ruins, the massive fire in San Francisco’s Marina District.

Loma Prieta caused 63 deaths and injured 3,700. It resulted in about $8 billion in losses due to actual damage or business interruptions. More than 18,000 homes were damaged and 963 were destroyed. Another 2,500 non-residential buildings were damaged and 147 were destroyed.

But the fact that two California teams were playing in the World Series was irrelevant. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland A’s battled it out in the 1974 and 1988 World Series. There wasn’t a damaging earthquake -- generally, magnitude 5.5 or greater -- in the state during the month of October in either year, although there was a 4.8 temblor in the San Jose area in ’88.

And for Dodgers fans who might believe that San Francisco reaching the World Series is a harbinger, know this: There were no damaging quakes in California in October of 1962, the only other time the Giants reached the Series since moving to San Francisco.

“There might have been more deaths and casualties as a result of the Loma Prieta earthquake had the World Series not been going on,” Young said. “With two Bay Area teams playing, a lot of people probably left work early to catch the game, so the traffic on the Bay Bridge and the Nimitz Freeway wasn’t as heavy as usual.”

Edison Field, the Angels’ home park and site of the first two games of the World Series this weekend, is located about nine miles south of the Whittier Fault and about 10 miles north of the Newport-Inglewood Fault. While those faults have produced large earthquakes in the past, they have a low recurrence rate. In other words, studies show that the big quakes have occurred many hundreds of years apart.

The southeastern side of Anaheim Stadium is in Seismic Hazard Zone -- an area designated by DOC’s California Geological Survey as being susceptible to liquefaction during a large earthquake. Liquefaction occurs when water-saturated soil is shaken and loses its ability to support weight, like quicksand.

The Giants’ home, Pac Bell Park, is entirely within a designated liquefaction zone. The San Andreas Fault is about nine miles west of the stadium. Major earthquakes occur along this section of the fault about every 200 years. The last “big one” was the 1906 San Francisco earthquake; Loma Prieta was much less powerful. The Hayward Fault is about 10 miles east of Pac Bell Park. Many scientists believe that the Hayward is overdue for a large earthquake. It has a recurrence rate of 150-250 years for a magnitude 7 quake, yet the northern portion of the fault hasn’t seen a temblor that big since the late 1700s.

But the architects of Pac Bell Park had earthquakes in mind when the stadium was built. Improvements were made to the soil on which the stadium was built (essentially landfill). The stadium was built in sections that will shake independently and not crush each other in the event of heavy shaking. Billions of dollars have been spent to retrofit essential utilities and services throughout the Bay Area since Loma Prieta.

Among other public safety measures, Loma Prieta prompted the Seismic Hazard Mapping Act of 1990. DOC's California Geological Survey has produced maps showing areas prone to the secondary earthquake hazards of liquefaction and landslides covering all or parts of more than 150 communities in six counties around Los Angeles and San Francisco. Local governments use the maps to regulate development. Cities and counties can withhold permits until geologic or soils investigations are conducted for specific sites and mitigation measures are incorporated into the development plans.

The California Integrated Seismic Network (CISN) has also been expanded into Northern California. The California Geological Survey, USGS, California Institute of Technology and the University of California at Berkeley maintain hundreds of seismic monitors around the state. Within minutes of strong shaking, these monitors allow CISN to produce ShakeMaps that direct emergency responders to the hardest-hit areas. Monitors on structures – such as San Francisco City Hall – can tell engineers how shaking affects a structure and whether retrofitting steps have been adequate.

“Earthquakes are inevitable in California,” Young said. “Through science, we are trying to ensure that everyone is as safe as possible, at home or the ballpark and regardless of who you’re rooting for.”

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