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Earthquakes Remind Californians to Prepare for Disasters


A series of moderate earthquakes that rocked Los Angeles recently have reminded residents to be ready for a disaster. Safety experts say every household needs a plan, supplies of food and water, and emergency equipment.

An earthquake of magnitude 5.1 shook the southeastern suburbs of Los Angeles on Friday, causing some damage, but no major injuries. Nerves were on edge as smaller aftershocks rumbled through the region.

At the Los Angeles County emergency operations center, young people sort through supplies, the kind we should all have on hand for any disaster, from flashlights and batteries to emergency blankets. They are training with FEMA Corps, under the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the national service program AmeriCorps.

Ongoing training at this hilltop command center also ensures coordination among emergency responders. L.A. County has 88 cities and scores of agencies, and Leslie Luke of the Office of Emergency Management said the region had to be ready for any kind of disaster.

“Just here in the last month, we have had a wildfire, we have had a severe rainstorm which caused mudflows and debris flows. We have had an earthquake,” said Luke.

At the Red Cross in nearby Long Beach, the message is also preparedness, since experts say people should expect to be on their own for at least three days after a disaster. They will need their medications, a first aid kit, food and water. Red Cross official Margaret Arbini-Madonna said their emergency kit should also include a radio, ideally one with several functions, like an alarm, a light and an AM-FM radio.

She said people should keep copies of important documents in a waterproof package, and it should all be accessible in an emergency kit. She added that, in an earthquake, people needed to react when the shaking started.

“You go under a counter or something to protect your head and neck from falling objects. So drop, cover and hold on until the shaking stops,” she said.

Earthquakes are a fact of life in California, and a quake of magnitude eight or higher could strike along the San Andreas Fault in coming decades. The fault runs north to south through the state, and thousands died in its last major rupture near San Francisco in 1906. Scientists say it could well wreak havoc again in northern California, or closer to Los Angeles in the southern part of the state.

But smaller earthquakes can be deadly if they strike close to cities, like the magnitude 6.7 quake that hit Northridge, California, 20 years ago. It killed more than 50 people.

Seismologist Kate Hutton of the California Institute of Technology said an early warning system was in development, similar to ones now in place in Japan and Mexico City. It would give precious seconds of warning after a temblor has struck the region, as ground waves are approaching.

“And get under the desk or get out of the elevator or slow the trains down or all these different things that could be done in that short amount of time,” said Hutton.

But she said there was no way to predict earthquakes, so being prepared was the best defense.
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