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The big one: Part of Arizona would be affected by huge California earthquake

Damage from the 1979 earthquake is shown. (United States Geological Survey Photo)

PHOENIX — Experts believe California is on the path to experiencing a major earthquake so large that it could cause damage in parts of Arizona.

During the National Earthquake Conference in Long Beach, California on Wednesday, Thomas Jordan, director of the Southern California Earthquake Center, said a fault in his part of the state looks particularly hairy.

“The southern San Andreas Fault, in particular, looks like it’s locked, loaded and ready to roll,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

The fault runs through the Salton Sea, which is just 80 miles west of Yuma on the the California-Arizona border.

“The folks in Yuma … would know it very quickly,” if a large earthquake happened along the southern portion of the San Andreas Fault said Michael Conway, chief of the Geologic Extension Service for the Arizona Geologic Survey.

According to Conway, if the major earthquake activity were to happen on the Imperial Fault Zone — a series of faults connected to the San Andreas — some residents in Yuma could be damaged.

The last major quake in the Imperial Fault Zone — a magnitude 6.4 — was in 1979. It caused extensive damage in Southern California towns, the Mexicali Valley in Northern Baja California, Mexico, and also in Yuma.

“The older portion of Yuma — all brick and mortar buildings — are unreinforced, many of them,” Conway explained. “The Yuma area has a very high water table, only 6-8 feet in places below the ground surface.”

A combination of an earthquake and a high water table — such as that in Yuma — can cause liquefaction, or, in other terms, cause the ground to “shake quite a bit like a bowl of Jello,” he added.

During the 1979 quake, Yuma residents reported seeing something similar.

Despite the scary implications, Conway said Arizonans should not be worried about a massive Southern California quake. Instead, they should be prepared.

Conway said residents should secure things to walls if they are prone to falling over and ensure hot water heaters are stable. They also should have an exit plan and important documents readily available should they need to make their way to safety in a hurry.

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