Scientists say California overdue for major earthquake

SALINAS, Calif. - Smaller earthquakes happen a lot in California, but the disaster unfolding in Mexico is a reminder that rare, major quakes can and do happen.

There are 22 active fault lines running through Monterey County alone.

The biggest one is San Andreas, which scientists said hasn't had major activity for more than a century, and way overdue for California. Major activity means a temblor of more than magnitude 7.

"USGS (U.S. Geological Survey reports we could have an excess of a 7.0-7.8 magnitude earthquake in our area. That could be catastrophic," said Gerry Malais, manager for Monterey County Office of Emergency Services.

The San Andreas fault, spanning from the U.S.-Mexico border at San Diego to north of San Francisco is responsible for several major disasters.   

When the worst of history repeats itself, this is what could happen to Monterey and Santa Cruz counties: "Not only the structural damage that could happen to building, all of our roads could be damaged to the point where people can't get in to help us our internal energy grid and water grid could be disrupted, as well as the risk if we have an underwater water slide, landslide, we could have a Tsunami," Malais said.

"Santa Cruz is no more vulnerable than other places in California,” said Emily Brodsky, earth and planetary sciences professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “Landslides happen after big earthquakes, and certainly there was a big problem accessing Santa Cruz because Highway 17 closed after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, and it is entirely possible that landslides would close off access to a large part of the county."

That's why safety experts said earthquake preparedness is a full-time job. That includes educating the public and making sure workplaces are secure.

Those living close to the San Andreas fault said they try to stock up.

"I have a little bit of food, water, a first aid kit, and a little handheld radio," San Juan Bautista resident Joe Claus said.

Some other safety tips include making sure heavy items, like water heaters are strapped so they don't fall and injure people.

Those living in Monterey County can also sign up for Alert Monterey to get emergency notifications.

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