Monday, April 06, 2009

It's Not Our Fault

Here's the thing about earthquakes and fault lines. While it's true that California is pretty much vertically split by the very active San Andreas fault -- and most of the state is probably vulnerable to shaking from a major event -- not every part of California rests within what the state or county considers a hazardous fault zone. That is reserved for places that have active faults that are slipping and sliding.

After we looked at the drop-dead beautiful piece of property way up in the Santa Cruz mountains and learned that it is on fault lines, we thought we'd do some online geological sleuthing. What we found stunned us, but also made us question our fear of living on such active earth.
The property sits only 2000 feet from the San Andreas fault. If you look at the above map you'll see the property with a little yellow heart (I put that there), and the very red line (google earth put that there) that is the San Andreas. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake was not directly on the San Andreas fault, but was on a related network of other faults very much like the ones that run right through our dream property.
If that first graphic was not compelling enough, look at the above map and you'll see where the state designated the hazardous fault zones. I outlined the property in blue. It actually has three very distinct fault lines running through it. The orangish lines are those faults. The line that runs from the lower right hand corner of the picture up through Grizzly Flat Rd is the San Andreas.
The state's hazardous designation is different from the county's, which adds a greater breadth of the summit area of the Santa Cruz mountain range. You can see that designation in the orangish pattern overlay on the map above. The entire property, according to the county, is enveloped in a earthquake hazard zone.

We found all of this information intriguing. For some reason, it didn't scare us off. Here's what we considered. When the Loma Prieta quake struck, the greatest damage was actually quite a distance from the epicenter. Property in downtown San Francisco over 70 miles away crumbled; the Bay Bridge also over 70 miles away suffered a calamitous crash; downtown Santa Cruz lost many buildings on its busiest street. Proximity to the epicenter was simply not a predictor of the severity of the damage.

So really, what would it mean to live that close to the San Andreas, and to have those other three fault lines right under our feet? We mused for a while and realized that not having a reliable water source was a much greater threat and deal breaker than the earth's shifting plates. We wondered if our sense of safety is actually illusory anyway? Droughts, flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes-- will definitely be in someone's future, like the shaking earth in ours, wherever we live in California.

For some reason, though, I can't get the picture of Slim Pickens riding the bomb, out of my mind. Life on the line where two tectonic plates meet is a little like that, I think. We're not buying the place, but we feel weirdly unconcerned about earthquakes, we've simply stopped worrying.

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