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Tuesday, September 29th, 2020
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EARTHQUAKE: What happens to the ports when the “Big One” hits?

Columbia Pictures' "2012."

A magnitude 7.1 earthquake rocked California on Friday night, just a day after the region was hit with a 6.4 earthquake on the Fourth of July.

PortandTerminal.com, July 6, 2019

LOS ANGELES, CA – Southern California was hit by its largest earthquake in two decades Friday, a 7.1-magnitude tremor that rattled residents less than 48 hours after another quake struck the same area.

The shallow earthquake hit a sparsely populated area near the small town of Ridgecrest, around 150 miles (240 kilometres) northeast of Los Angeles, where it was also felt.

Waves in a swimming pool are pictured during the earthquake in Ridgecrest, California, on July 5, 2019, in this picture grab obtained from a social media video.

No deaths have been reported, but there were reports of damage including fires.

“Homes shifted, foundation cracks, retaining walls down. One injury (minor) with firefighters treating patient,” San Bernardino County Fire District wrote on Twitter.

In addition to no deaths or serious injuries, there is no reported damage to any of the major ports in California. The quake’s epicentre was far enough away to have left America’s largest port, The Port of Los Angeles unscathed.

This time it appears that we got off lucky.

The Kobe Earthquake

The quake triggered 300 fires, which raged over large portions of the city.

The Great Hanshin Earthquake, aka The Kobe Earthquake, provides a frightening example of what the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach may be facing one day when the expected “Big One” eventually strikes the Los Angeles area.

The earthquake that struck the Japanese port city of Kobe (pop. 4 million) in the early morning of January 17, 1995, was the most severe quake ever to strike a modern urban area. The sheer size of the earthquake caused a major decline in Japanese stock markets, with the Nikkei 225 index plunging by 1,025 points on the day following the quake.

6,000 deaths and over 30,000 injuries

The Kobe Earthquake ravaged many of the facilities of what was then the world’s sixth-largest container port and the source of nearly 40% of Kobe’s industrial output.

The quake resulted in more than 6,000 deaths and over 30,000 injuries. Damage was widespread and severe. Structures irreparably damaged by the quake included nearly 400,000 buildings, numerous elevated road and rail bridges, and 120 of the 150 quays in the port of Kobe.

The total cost of repairing the damage was estimated at more than $100 billion.

The quake triggered 300 fires, which raged over large portions of the city. There were serious and widespread disruptions of water, electricity and gas supplies. Thousands of residents were afraid to return home because of aftershocks that lasted several days.

Damage to infrastructure

The damage to highways and subways were the most graphic images of the earthquake

The worst affected area was in the central part of Kobe including the main docks and port area. The port area is built on soft and relatively unstable rocks, especially the port itself which is built on reclaimed land. Here the ground actually liquefied and acted like thick soup, allowing buildings to topple sideways.

Damage to port infrastructure

Major highways, bridges and rail lines servicing the port were severely impacted by the disaster.

An overview of Nishinomiye area of Kobe taken 17 January 1995 shows a collapsed elevated highway AFP PHOTO JIJI PRESS

When the “Big One” hits Los Angeles

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach

Scientists predict that a magnitude 7.8 earthquake along the southern San Andreas would likely kill about 2,000 people.

California boasts one of the largest economies in the world. When the “Big One” hits major transportation networks like railroads and highways could be shut down for days, weeks, or even months. Perhaps the most detrimental shutdown would be the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which handle about a quarter of all cargo entering the US.

A large earthquake on the San Andreas Fault could create a devastating threat to humanity, infrastructure, and the economy, with implications that extend nationally and even globally

Even if the damage to the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach was minimal, the railway lines that carry goods to the rest of the country run across the San Andreas fault, where they will be upended by 20- to 30 feet by the earthquake. No other port on the West Coast has the capacity to pick up more than a fraction of the cargo.

Pipelines that carry fuel from the refineries in Los Angeles to supply most of the need in Arizona and Nevada also cross the San Andreas and will be broken. The transport of fuel- and train cargo cannot resume until the fires started when those pipes break have been put out and the roads and railway lines can be repaired.

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