What makes earthquakes dangerous and scary is that you won’t know when it will happen. You’ll suddenly feel the whole ground shaking violently, cars start alarming, buildings swaying, and the things in your home become scattered. The residents of California had their fair share of numerous earthquakes throughout their lifetime. Some earthquakes were manageable, while some were so violent that it brought millions of dollars in damages. The major earthquakes also took the lives of some Californian residents.
People use various equipment like the Richter scale devised in the 1930s. Until this day, some seismologists use the tool to determine and record the intensity of the earthquake. But during the 1970s, another device was invented called the moment magnitude scale that every seismologist in California has nowadays. Here are the top 5 most destructive earthquakes ever recorded in California.
1. April 18, 1906 - San Francisco - Magnitude 7.9
Older Californian residents may have experienced the largest earthquake in their lives on April 18, 1906, at 5:12 AM on a Wednesday. The magnitude 7.9 brought massive destruction to the coast of Northern California and had a Mercalli intensity of XI, which is the second to the last intensity scale that could almost cause total destruction.
The earthquake demolished hundreds of buildings around Northern California and also caused at least 3,000 fatalities, which had the highest body count ever made by natural disasters. Fires also broke out that lasted for days since firefighters around the area were also affected by the massive earthquake. The government estimated that 80% of California got destroyed after the earthquake hit, and the disaster will be one of the most horrific earthquakes in the history of the United States.
2. January 9, 1857 - Fort Tejon - Magnitude 7.9
Before the San Francisco earthquake happened, an earthquake happened during 1857. People who remembered it knew it as the Fort Tejon earthquake. It was the earliest recorded massive earthquake that struck Southern California. With a magnitude of 7.9, it broke the southern area of the well-known San Andreas fault by at least 225 miles, between Wrightwood and Parkfield.
The Fort Tejon earthquake is the most recent massive earthquake ever recorded in the San Andreas Fault. It had a Mercalli intensity of IX lower than the 1906 San Francisco earthquake but still managed to destroy several buildings. However, the earthquake took the lives of only two people, a woman killed by a collapsing house and an older man who fatally collapsed when the earthquake happened.
3. March 26, 1872 - Owens Valley - Magnitude 7.4
Seismologists still had no exact details about the 1872 Owens Valley earthquake. However, they managed to estimate the magnitude between 7.4 to 7.9 and even had a Mercalli intensity of X. People also compared it to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake because it took the lives of at least 27 people and injured 56.
While seismologists recorded the earthquake with a magnitude of 7.9, it managed to flatten most buildings in Lone Pine and other nearby areas. The earthquake also managed to damage at least $250,000, equal to $5,332,561.48 in 2021.
Nowadays, California has some of the best buildings that are earthquake-proof because of the many advancements in the construction industry. Some buildings even add exterior access doors to fix or inspect internal components whenever an earthquake happens. This helps commercial buildings keep their structural integrity in top condition at all times.