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Is Southern California Ready For 7.8 Earthquake?

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Hurricanes. Fires. Earthquakes.

Over the past few months, we've had an all-too-real glimpse of what Mother Nature is truly capable of and just how quickly a disaster can turn major cities upside-down.

Something that should serve as a reminder to Southern California that we could be next.

"When you live here in Southern California you just have to say it will happen," said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Lucy Jones.

Jones says that there are more than 300 faults in Southern California, and we all live within 5 miles of at least one of those faults.

While any of these faults are capable of jolting SoCal, it's no surprise to those of us who live here. Experts point to the San Andreas Fault as the one most likely to produce a large quake.

"When we have a big San Andreas earthquake it'll be felt in Las Vegas and in Arizona. It may be felt in the Bay Area," said Jones.

The scenario projects that the San Andreas could yield a 7.8 magnitude quake -- 11 times stronger than the 7.1 that hit Mexico City in September and 44 times stronger than the 1994 Northridge quake.

If a 7.8 quake ruptures the San Andreas it could hit the Salton Sea and then run 186 miles to Lake Hughes, shaking everything in its path and potentially setting off other faults, causing additional quakes.

"Everything that crosses the fault will be broken. So that's roads, railways, gas pipelines, water systems, electric transmission lines. All of these things cross the fault and will be now offset 10 to 30 feet," said Jones.

That means roads and freeways fractured. Landslides triggered. Water, power, sewage, communications severed.

"Modern life is a system of systems, and every one of them is vulnerable," said Jones.

Essentially leaving Southern California paralyzed and separated from anything to the east.

"It's not about dying. It's about being bankrupt and losing your home and having no place to be," said Jones.

And the number of deaths and damage to the region would be staggering.

The scenario says more than 1,800 people would die. Entire buildings and homes -- roughly 300,000 -- either destroyed or badly damaged. And $213 billion in damages.

"We always plan for the worst case scenario," said Chris Ipsen of the Los Angeles Emergency Management Department.

Ipsen says it could take up to 18 months to fully repair our water system and electrical grid. But that isn't even our biggest concern.

In the 1906 San Francisco earthquake 90 percent of the damage was caused by fire.

In 2011, Japan's quake caused another issue -- a tsunami.

"Tsunamis are low down on our worry list," said Jones. "To create a tsunami the fault has to be underwater and it has to change the shape of the sea floor. Southern California does not have an offshore fault capable of doing that."

And the experts stress we might not know when or exactly where. But we know a big quake is coming. And now it's up to you to be prepared.

"We want people to do something today to be better prepared for tomorrow," said Ipsen.

"The earthquake is inevitable but the disaster is not," said Jones. "And we can make a difference by the choices we make that'll make it be a lot less damaging."

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