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Salton Sea Quakes Trigger Swarm of Preparedness Reminders

As seismologists speculate on activity, American Red Cross-Santa Barbara County Chapter gets residents ready for the worst

As a swarm of earthquakes near the southern San Andreas Fault has seismologists monitoring the area for signs of bigger jolts to come, the American Red Cross-Santa Barbara County Chapter is urging the community to be prepared regardless.

More that 250 quakes of 2.5 magnitude or lower have been reported near the southern section of the San Andreas Fault, which runs about 800 miles from the Mojave Desert west and north to Cape Mendocino.

According to the local Red Cross chapter, the California Emergency Management Agency issued a warning to operational Red Cross areas last week after a 4.8-magnitude earthquake occurred three miles south of Bombay Beach, near the Salton Sea in Imperial County.

While the center of the swarm is nearly 300 miles away from Santa Barbara County, if an earthquake of 7.0 magnitude or larger were to affect the region, it would be felt locally, said UCSB seismologist Jamie Steidl.

“We wouldn’t have the violent shaking, but we would definitely feel it,” Steidl told Noozhawk. “We would have a rolling motion, so you’d feel like a ship on the ocean.”

It’s not likely the South Coast would have to deal with any tsunamis related to the event, he said, unless the shaking somehow triggered an underwater landslide in the Santa Barbara Channel. Power could be an issue as the shaking might cause the power grid to shut down, but local damage likely would be minimal.

The southern section of the San Andreas Fault has not seen a a significant rupture in more than three centuries, said Steidl, the last one being in the late 1600s. The central section ruptured in the 1857 Fort Tejon earthquake, an estimated 8.0-magnitude shaker centered 45 miles northeast of San Luis Obispo. In 1906, the northern section ruptured in the San Francisco earthquake, a temblor measuring between 7.7 and 8.3 in magnitude.

“It’s not unusual that earthquake swarms happen in (the south San Andreas Fault) area,” Steidl said. “But the particular location of these swarms is what makes seismologists nervous.”

The sparsely populated Salton Sea lies directly over the San Andreas Fault. Several once thriving communities were abandoned in the early 1900s after increasing salinity took a toll on the area's wildlife.
The sparsely populated Salton Sea lies directly over the San Andreas Fault. Several once thriving communities were abandoned in the early 1900s after increasing salinity took a toll on the area’s wildlife. (iStock photo)

Seismologists have long suspected that quakes in the Salton Sea area might be harbingers of larger quakes on nearby faults. The smaller quakes, Steidl said, could trigger a rupture on the San Andreas Fault all the way up to San Bernardino.

Being the young science that it is, said Steidl, seismology hasn’t gotten to the point where scientists can make short-term predictions as to when the next “big one” will hit. Add to that the general unpredictability of these events and pretty much all they can do is monitor the situation.

“This is just another reminder that we need to be prepared,” he said.

Prepare a Home Earthquake Plan

» Choose a safe place in every room — under a sturdy table or desk or against an inside wall where nothing can fall on you.

» Practice DROP, COVER AND HOLD ON at least twice a year. Drop under a sturdy desk or table, hold on, and protect your eyes by pressing your face against your arm. If there’s no table or desk nearby, sit on the floor against an interior wall away from windows, bookcases, or tall furniture that could fall on you. Teach children to DROP, COVER, AND HOLD ON!

» Choose an out-of-town family contact.

» Consult a professional to find out additional ways you can protect your home, such as bolting the house to its foundation and other structural mitigation techniques.

» Take a first-aid class from American Red Cross-Santa Barbara County Chapter. Keep your training current.

» Get training in how to use a fire extinguisher.

» Inform babysitters and caregivers of your plan.

Eliminate Hazards

» Bolt bookcases, china cabinets and other tall furniture to wall studs.

» Install strong latches on cupboards.

» Strap the water heater to wall studs.

Prepare a Disaster Supplies Kit For Home and Car

» First-aid kit and essential medications.

» Canned food and can opener.

» At least three gallons of water per person.

» Protective clothing, rainwear, and bedding or sleeping bags.

» Battery-powered radio, flashlight and extra batteries.

» Special items for infant, elderly or disabled family members.

» Written instructions for how to turn off gas, electricity and water if authorities advise you to do so. (Remember, you’ll need a professional to turn natural gas service back on.)

» Keeping essentials, such as a flashlight and sturdy shoes, by your bedside.

Know What to Do When the Shaking Begins

» DROP, COVER, AND HOLD ON! Move only a few steps to a nearby safe place. Stay indoors until the shaking stops and you’re sure it’s safe to exit. Stay away from windows. In a high-rise building, expect the fire alarms and sprinklers to go off during a quake.

» If you are in bed, hold on and stay there, protecting your head with a pillow.

» If you are outdoors, find a clear spot away from buildings, trees and power lines. Drop to the ground.

» If you are in a car, slow down and drive to a clear place (as described above). Stay in the car until the shaking stops.

Identify What to Do After the Shaking Stops

» Check yourself for injuries. Protect yourself from further danger by putting on long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, sturdy shoes and work gloves.

» Check others for injuries. Give first aid for serious injuries.

» Look for and extinguish small fires. Eliminate fire hazards. Turn off the gas if you smell gas or think it’s leaking. (Remember, only a professional should turn it back on.)

» Listen to the radio for instructions.

» Expect aftershocks. Each time you feel one, DROP, COVER, AND HOLD ON!

» Inspect your home for damage. Get everyone out if your home is unsafe.

» Use the telephone only to report life-threatening emergencies.

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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