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Turkey-level disaster is possible in California, renowned seismologist says

Renowned seismologist says Turkey-level disaster is possible in California
Renowned seismologist says Turkey-level disaster is possible in California 03:00

As the world continues to reel from the devastating earthquakes that killed tens of thousands in Turkey and Syria and reduced countless buildings to rubble, a renowned seismologist is warning that the same destruction could happen in cities sitting on the San Andreas Fault, CBS Los Angeles' Laurie Perez reports.

"I want people to understand that, even here in California, we are not building buildings you can use after the earthquake," said seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones, who's been dubbed the "Earthquake Lady."

Jones tweeted Wednesday that, "I am frustrated at the way we all jump to the conclusion that the problems in Turkey are all their mistakes and aren't willing to looking at the shortcomings we all share."

According to Jones, only 1% of the buildings in Los Angeles would collapse following a tremblor similar to what struck southern Turkey and northern Syria — but far more would be rendered uninhabitable. 

"In addition to the 1% collapsed, there would be another 10% that will be so badly damaged they would have to be torn down and another 40% damaged enough that we won't be able to use them after the earthquake," she said. 

In part, Jones blames the potential loss of over 50% of the buildings in all of Los Angeles on the state's current building code which, in her opinion, was intended solely to keep a building from killing someone while enabling construction costs to stay as low as possible.

Turkey Syria Earthquake
A Turkish rescue worker checks a collapsed building in Adiyaman, southern Turkey, on February 11, 2023. Emrah Gurel/AP

"If the building's a total financial loss and you have to tear it down afterwards, well that was your choice to make," she said. "Like all of the new condos in downtown Los Angeles, there is nothing in the code that says we should be protecting the investments of those people who purchased those condominiums. It's solely, 'Make sure you can crawl out alive.' And even then, 'Make mostly sure that you're gonna crawl out alive. We can't be perfect.'" 

For years, Jones has been urging lawmakers to adopt building codes that mandate developing structures that can be repaired, that aim for more than human survival toward a community's recovery.

Jones says that would only add one percent to a building's construction cost.

"There was, in fact, just a building built in San Francisco, of affordable housing where the owners chose to go for the functional recovery standard -- get a building a we can use after the earthquake, and it added .25% to the cost of the building." 

Two bills in the past five years proposed the higher building code standard in California, according to Jones. Both failed. 

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