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Big earthquake possible but unlikely in Arizona's future

Aftermath of northern California's Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. (Photo: U.S. Geological Survey)

PHOENIX -- Hundreds of earthquakes occur in Arizona each year and most go unfelt.

Mike Conway with the Arizona Geological Survey said faults in Arizona are capable of producing a 7.5 magnitude quake, but a quake that large in the state is unlikely.

"It would not be surprising to see something in the neighborhood of a 6.5 to 7.0," he said. "A 7.5 is a very large earthquake.

The Valley is only a couple of hundred miles away from the gold standard of faults: the San Andreas in California. Arizona is also surrounded by Utah, New Mexico and Mexico, which Conway said are all prime for large earthquakes.

"A 6.5 to 7.0 earthquake could cost significant damage if it occurred near the major metro areas," said Conway. "Phoenix probably wouldn't see a large quake based on what we know about fault rupture beneath the Valley, at least the ones that we're aware of.

"There are dozens of young and active faults in Arizona that probably haven't been identified yet."

Arizona's largest quakes happened in the early 1900s, when Flagstaff had a series of intense earthquakes around 6.0.

The 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake that struck the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989 lasted 10-15 seconds, killed 63 people and caused $6 billion in damage.

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About the Author


Position: Senior News Reporter. Started with KTAR July 4, 1999.

Favorite spots in Arizona: Pinetop-Lakeside, Alpine, Greer.

Have covered some of the biggest stories in Arizona including nine of the top 10 largest wildfires in state history. The Wallow Fire in 2011 became the largest fire in state history. Rodeo-Chediski Fire in June 2002, which is the second largest fire in Arizona. Covered the Yarnell Hill Tragedy in June 2013 that left 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots dead.

Favorite movies: True Grit, both 1969 John Wayne classic and the remake with Jeff Bridges and Lonesome Dove.

Sports Teams: Washington State University Cougars, Texas Longhorns, The University of Montana Grizzlies.

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