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Severe California Quake Won’t Ease Danger of Next Big One, Scientists Say

July 9, 1986

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. (AP) _ Southern California’s strongest earthquake in seven years injured at least 22 people and caused widespread damage, but scientists say it will not relieve enough pressure to delay a great quake predicted to hit the state.

Aftershocks from Tuesday’s temblor, which measured 6.0 on the Richter scale, continued to rock the Palm Springs area today. At least three struck this morning, but few people called police and no damage was reported, said Sgt. Mike McCracken.

″They keep coming and going,″ he said. ″I hope it doesn’t get any worse.″

The quake Tuesday morning buckled highways, sparked dozens of fires and damaged part of the state’s aqueduct system. It also blacked out power to 110,000 homes for about three hours and rolled boulders the size of cars onto highways.

″Our greatest concern is the slim chance this might be a foreshock,″ said Tom Heaton, head of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Pasadena office. About one in 20 earthquakes in California is followed by a larger temblor within five days, he said, but he added that the chances of a bigger aftershock diminish each day.

At Desert Hospital in Palm Springs, 18 people were treated for earthquake- rel ated injuries that included cuts, abrasions, strains and chest pains, said spokeswoman Linda Riggs. Four others who were admitted to the hospital with stress-related ailments were in stable condition today, said a nursing supervisor who wouldn’t give her name.

Initial reports indicated $2 million damage, said Riverside County emergency services officials, but that estimate was expected to rise as damage assessments continued.

The quake was centered about 12 miles northwest of Palm Springs or 110 miles east of Los Angeles, said Dennis Meredith, a spokesman for the seismology lab at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

At the Western Village Mobile Home Ranch, four miles northwest of Palm Springs, 37 mobile homes were damaged and two were reported total losses after being shaken off their foundations. Damage was estimated at $150,000.

″It looks like the devil’s own hand stirred things up here,″ said Anna Abston, manager of the trailer park.

The earthquake, felt as far away as Arizona and Nevada, lasted 20 to 30 seconds and spawned dozens of aftershocks, some registering as high as 3.0 on the Richter scale.

Caltech seismologist Kate Hutton said the temblor was the strongest in seven years in Southern California but was far too small to significantly delay the great quake of 8.0 or more on the Richter scale that is expected within the next 30 years.

″Every earthquake relieves some stress,″ Ms. Hutton said. ″But a 6.0 is just a drop in the bucket.″

Had the quake struck closer to Los Angeles, damage would have been much more severe, officials said.

″If it had happened downtown, it might have been a different story,″ said Thomas Heaton, a U.S. Geological Survey scientist at Caltech. ″It probably would have damaged pre-1930s buildings″ - those built before earthquake- safety rules were adopted.

As it was, the Palm Springs area escaped more extensive damage because many of its buildings were built after a 1948 quake that measured 6.5 on the Richter scale. That quake destroyed many buildings erected before stricter building codes were implemented in 1933, Heaton said.

The quake was the strongest in Southern California since a 1979 quake in the Imperial Valley hit 6.4 on the open-ended Richter scale. A quake registering 6.4 killed 65 people in the San Fernando Valley in February 1971.

The Richter scale is a measure of ground motion as recorded on seismographs. Every increase of one number means a tenfold increase in the strength of the shaking. Thus a reading of 7.5 reflects an earthquake 10 times stronger than one of 6.5.

The San Francisco earthquake of 1906, which occurred before the Richter scale was devised, has been estimated at 8.3 on the Richter scale.

Southern California Edison Co. and Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District officials said they expected preliminary damage estimates today, but police said it could take days to figure out the total cost of the quake.

″One bridge on Highway 111 shifted off its pillars and will have to be reset,″ Palm Springs police Lt. Lee Weigel said. ″It will probably be closed until the end of the week.″

Boulders, some the size of automobiles, were strewn across the bridge.

No structural damage was found in downtown Palm Springs, but the main street was littered with broken glass, police said. A glass and mirror firm suffered $35,000 in fire damage and a liquor store had $25,000 worth of breakage.

A major power outage put 110,000 customers in the Palm Springs area in the dark from 4:15 a.m. to about 7 a.m. Tuesday, the Edison Co. said.

The outage shut down two pumping stations on an aqueduct bringing Colorado River water into Southern California and forced crews to dump 700 million gallons of water in the desert, triggering minor flooding, said MWD spokesman Tim Skove. About 13 million Californians get half their water from the MWD.

The quake and power outage tripped security alarms, knocked store shelves and home cupboards bare, shattered windows, cracked walls, forced the Palm Springs Airport terminal to close, put one area radio station off the air and left the city without traffic lights.

″It was a disaster. Our bed slammed from one wall to the other and back again. It was like a giant was behind the house shaking the whole thing,″ said Roxana Melland, a resident of Painted Hills, 12 miles northwest of Palm Springs.

″I thought a plane hit the house,″ said neighbor Buck Boyle. ″It looked like somebody drove through here with a bulldozer.″

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