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Earthquake Myths

"Big earthquakes always happen in the early morning."

This myth may be so common because we want it to be true. Several recent damaging earthquakes have been in the early morning, so many people believe that all big earthquakes happen then. In fact, earthquakes occur at all times of day. The 1933 Long Beach earthquake was at 5:54 pm and the 1940 Imperial Valley event was at 8:37 pm. More recently, the 1992 Joshua Tree earthquake was at 9:50 pm and the 2003 San Simeon event was at 11:15 am. It is easy to notice the earthquakes that fit the pattern and forget the ones that don't. See more from "Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country"


"It's hot and dry -- earthquake weather!"

Many people believe that earthquakes are more common in certain kinds of weather. In fact, no correlation with weather has been found. Earthquakes begin many kilometers (miles) below the region affected by surface weather. People tend to notice earthquakes that fit the pattern and forget the ones that don't. Also, every region of the world has a story about earthquake weather, but the type of weather is whatever they had for their most memorable earthquake. See more from "Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country"


"Beachfront property in Arizona"

The idea of California falling into the ocean has had an enduring appeal to those envious of life in the Golden State. Of course, the ocean is not a great hole into which California can fall, but it is itself land at a somewhat lower elevation with water above it. The motion of plates will not make California sink -- western California is moving horizontally along the San Andreas fault and up around the Transverse Ranges. See more from "Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country"


"We have good building codes so we must have good buildings."

The best building codes in the world do nothing for buildings built before that code was enacted. While the codes have been updated, the older buildings are still in place. Fixing problems in older buildings -- retrofitting -- is the responsibility of the building's owner. See more from "Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country"


"Head for the doorway"

An enduring earthquake image of California is a collapsed adobe home with the door frame as the only standing part. From this came our belief that a doorway is the safest place to be during an earthquake. True -- if you live in an old, unreinforced adobe house. In modern houses, doorways are no stronger than any other part of the house. You are safer under a table. See more from "Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country"


"And the earth opened..."

A popular literary device is a fault that opens during an earthquake to swallow up an annoying character. But unfortunately for principled writers, gaping faults exist only in novels. The ground moves across a fault during an earthquake, not away from it. If the fault could open, there would be no friction. Without friction, there would be no earthquake. See more from "Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country"


"Everyone will panic during the Big One!"

A common belief is that people always panic and run around madly during and after earthquakes, creating more danger for themselves and others. Actually, research shows that people usually take protective actions and help others both during and after the shaking. Most people don't get too shaken up about being shaken up! See more from "Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country"


These myths are taken from the booklet, Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country, available online from SCEC.

To order printed copies of this handbook, go to the SCEC Publications Catalog.

Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country is a product of the Southern California Earthquake Center and the United States Geological Survey, with additional support of organizations listed on the acknowledgements page.





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