Mapping the 1994 Northridge Earthquake: Origin, Shaking and Damage - NBC Southern California
1994 Northridge Earthquake

1994 Northridge Earthquake

A look back at the Jan. 17, 1994 Northridge earthquake and its aftermath

Mapping the 1994 Northridge Earthquake: Origin, Shaking and Damage

The most heavily damaged areas in the 1994 Northridge quake were north of LA, but the shaking resulted in pockets of damage in Santa Monica and other areas

Mapping the 1994 Northridge Earthquake: Origin, Shaking and Damage
AFP/Getty Images
Aeria view of wrecked cars litter the connector ramp from Interstate 5 to Highway 14 following the Northridge earthquake, on January 17, 1994, in Northridge, California. During Northridge earthquake damage was widespread, sections of major freeways collapsed, parking structures and office buildings collapsed, and numerous apartment buildings suffered irreparable damage. (Photo credit should read CARLOS SCHIEBECK/AFP/Getty Images)

At a magnitude of 6.7, the 1994 Northridge earthquake wasn’t unusual in terms of its size.

Since 1900, an average of 120 earthquakes per year worldwide are in the magnitude-6.0 to 6.9 range. In 1993, the year before the Northridge quake, shocks in that range numbered 141 worldwide.

For a visualization of just how many earthquakes rival the 1994 Northridge quake in magnitude, explore the map below. It displays all earthquakes in the magnitude-6.0 to 6.9 range since 1970. 

The list includes the magnitude-6.9 earthquake in Kobe, Japan, which caused devastation on a staggering scale -- 5,100 fatalities, 27,000 injures and 100,000 building destroyed.

So the number 6.7 only tells us part of story of Monday, Jan. 17, 1994.

In the case of the Northridge quake, its location in the vicinity of a built-up metropolis with some vulnerable structures -- including residential buildings and freeway overpasses -- made it a natural disaster of historic proportions.

The origin was near the intersection of Reseda Boulevard and Arminta Street in the northwest San Fernando Valley on a previously undocumented fault. At a depth of about 10 miles, the quake caused strong ground motion across a widespread part of Southern California.

A USGS intensity map (below) shows that the strongest shaking, designated in red, was reported in areas north of Los Angeles as the rupture spread in that direction. Residents to the south, including downtown LA and densely popuated areas around it, reported less intense "strong" and "very strong" shaking, denoted by yellow and orange squares.

A USGS map shows reports of shaking from the1994 Northridge earthquake.
Photo credit: USGS

Most of the damage occurred in communities north of Los Angeles, but there were pockets of hard hit areas, like Sherman Oaks, West Hollywood and even Santa Monica. The seaside community is about 15 miles away from the Northridge earthquake epicenters, but soft soil, Southern California's fault system and Santa Monica's older building stock likely all contributed to significant damage.

Reports of damage and casualties developed throughout the first day. Below, this map features locations of some of the hardest hit areas and archived video of NBC4 reports.

At $20 billion in damage and $49 billion in economic loss, it was the costliest natural disaster ever at the time in the United States, but the damage could have been worse had the rupture spread south toward the more densely populated areas in and around downtown Los Angeles.

At the time, Los Angeles County's population was an estimated 9 million people. Today, it's around 10.1 million with nearly 4 million in the city of Los Angeles alone. How would the intensity of that shaking be felt across the Los Angeles of 2019? The map below illustrates the potential impact if the Northridge earthquake occurred today.

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