PD Editorial: State still isn't ready for Big One

  • BETH SCHLANKER / The Press Democrat
    Bricks fell from the Pfeiffer building onto the sidewalk below during the Napa earhquake.

Bricks fell like rain in downtown Napa during the earthquake one week ago today.

In the aftermath, newspaper photos and TV video showed a car crushed by debris from a crumbling wall. Across the street, a brick façade collapsed onto the sidewalk. A gaping hole exposed the top floor of the courthouse, the post office buckled.

Fortunately, no one was killed.

The South Napa quake was Northern California’s largest in a quarter-century. But with a magnitude of 6.0, it rated only as a moderate quake, packing much less destructive power than the Big One that Californians expect and dread.

Striking at 3:20 a.m., the Napa quake shook countless thousands from their slumber.

Having had a week to assess its impact, it’s clear that this quake should be a wake-up call of another sort, too.

The bricks and building blocks littering streets and sidewalks are evidence that, for all of California’s seismic safety refinements, thousands of older buildings still aren’t ready to withstand even a mid-size earthquake.

In 1986, the state mandated upgrades for about 25,000 brick buildings in seismically active areas that didn’t meet modern earthquake safety standards. Three decades later, as many as 7,800 of those unreinforced masonry buildings haven’t been retrofitted.

In a quake, each of them could collapse or produce a lethal shower of bricks.

“This is not a question of ‘maybe these buildings will come down,’ ” U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Lucy Jones told the Los Angeles Times. “They absolutely will come down.”

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