Approximately 90 percent of Californians have no earthquake insurance. Unlike homeowners’ insurance (which doesn’t cover earthquakes), it is not required to obtain a mortgage, and having the coverage roughly doubles the standard cost of insuring a home. There is a policy that is underwritten by the California State Earthquake Authority, which is a privately financed, publicly managed entity that offers coverage on behalf of about two dozen insurers and has about $17 billion on hand to pay claims—a figure that would be grossly inadequate in the event of a real catastrophe.
The worst damage in a big quake would be grim, and would include destroyed freeways, since Interstate 10 crosses the San Andreas in a dozen places; fires from broken gas lines; damage to the vital aqueducts that transport nearly 90 percent of L.A.’s water supply; and such a disruption in interstate high-voltage power lines through the Cajon Pass—the main route to Las Vegas—that electricity in Southern California could be out for days or longer.
Leila Weekes Wilson wrote in a Santa Barbara booster book in 1919, that ‘a real earthquake has not been felt here for over a hundred years, so the danger from seismic disturbances need cause little worry.’ Six years later, a major quake there killed a dozen people and destroyed or damaged virtually every brick, concrete, or stone building in the city, forcing the rebuilding of the entire downtown.
The first Ridgecrest quake—6.4 magnitude—struck on the morning of July 4, the second quake, 7.1 magnitude, hit the next night, it lasted for about three-quarters of a minute, and time seemed to stand still. The Ridgecrest temblor produced scattered fires, cracked foundations, broken bottles in stores, and other property damage.
That second quake packed a power equal to 45 atomic bombs of the type dropped on Hiroshima, and a comparable one in a city as dense as Los Angeles would have produced serious harm to life and limb. Denial in the face of such a prospect is not a rational strategy.