For the uninitiated, The Big One refers to a magnathrust earthquake predicted by some geologists for the San Andreas Fault in Southern California, to occur sometime in the next century.
What makes the event particularly threatening is the string of finger faults that feed off the main fault all of the way from Los Angeles into Orange County. The LA Basin contains more than eleven million souls and a sizeable percentage of American productive capacity. Within minutes, the story goes, a rupture in the San Andreas could trigger these finger faults, kill all kinds of people, and destroy the work of centuries.
The Northridge Quake of 1994–a minor tremor by comparison–lasted just 20 seconds (in the main rupture), killed 57, and caused $20 billion worth of damage. It burst Lockhart, wife, and children out of bed at 4:31AM more than fifty miles away, an experience no one is in a hurry to repeat. Friends nearer the epicenter were thrown five feet into the air and watched refrigerators careen across kitchens and through walls.
The photo shows the San Andreas Fault where it crosses Interstate 5 in the Tejon Pass north of Los Angeles. Beautiful for something so deadly, isn’t it?