LA HABRA (CBS/AP) — Experts say a bigger earthquake along the lesser-known fault that gave Southern California a moderate shake could do more damage to the region than the long-dreaded "Big One" from the more famous San Andreas Fault.
The Puente Hills thrust fault, which brought Friday night's magnitude-5.1 quake centered in La Habra and well over 100 aftershocks by Sunday, stretches from northern Orange County under downtown Los Angeles into Hollywood — a heavily populated swath of the Los Angeles area.
A magnitude-7.5 earthquake along that fault could prove more catastrophic than one along the San Andreas, which runs along the outskirts of metropolitan Southern California, seismologists said.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that such a quake along the Puente Hills fault could kill 3,000 to 18,000 people and cause up to $250 billion in damage. In contrast, a larger magnitude 8 quake along the San Andreas would cause an estimated 1,800 deaths.
In 1987, the fault caused the Whittier Narrows earthquake. Still considered moderate at magnitude 5.9, that quake killed eight people and did more than $350 million in damage.
Part of the problem with the potential damage is that the fault runs near so many vulnerable older buildings, many made of concrete, in downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood. And because the fault, discovered in 1999, is horizontal, heavy reverberations are likely to be felt over a wide area.
The shaking from a 7.5 quake in the center of urban Los Angeles could be so intense it would lift heavy objects in the air, like the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake in Northern California, where the shaking was so bad "we found an upside-down grand piano," USGS Seismologist Lucy Jones told the Los Angeles Times.
That would "hit all of downtown," Jones said. "And everywhere from La Habra to Hollywood."
Reporting for KCAL9, Brittney Hopper talked to an expert who told her that all the recent quakes we are having are actually causing seismologists more concern.
Thomas Jordan, director of the Southern California Earthquake Center says experts are studying the recent earthquakes very closely.
"We can't predict earthquakes," he said, "but you know, I'd say we're a little bit nervous."
Like Jones, Jordan does not want to see a major quake hit the Puente Hills fault.
"It would be very damaging to central Los Angeles," he said, "An earthquake engineer once told me this could be the earthquake from Hell."
Jordan also says it's a myth that big quakes -- like Friday's 5.1 in La Habra -- release the stress on faults.
"They don't relieve the pressures that cause earthquakes very much and more frequently, they're actually associated with bigger earthquakes," Jordan said.
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