25 years later, could Bay Area take another quake?

AP Photo/The Contra Costa Times

It's been 25 years since a massive quake rocked the Bay Area just before a World Series game, killing dozens, injuring thousands and causing billions of dollars' worth of damage as it buckled freeways, brought down a bridge and knocked buildings off their foundations.

It was the strongest quake to hit the region in generations.

The shaking lasted about 15 seconds, but its effects can still be seen transforming the region. Here's a look back at the Oct. 17, 1989, Loma Prieta earthquake:

Q: What happened?

A: Sixty-three people were killed and more than 3,000 were injured when the 6.9-magnitude quake hit just before the San Francisco Giants played the Oakland A's.

Most of the quake deaths occurred when a busy two-tier freeway in Oakland collapsed. The quake also brought down a top section of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Buildings came down in San Francisco's Marina District and in downtown Santa Cruz, about 80 miles to the south.

Q: Was anything rebuilt?

A: A renewed focus on seismic safety brought dramatic changes: A quake-damaged freeway was demolished. A waterfront area near Fisherman's Wharf was revitalized. And the Golden Gate Bridge — which wasn't damaged — has been the subject of safety upgrades that continue to this day.

Among the biggest projects, however, was construction of a new span for the Bay Bridge. The $6.4 billion undertaking, among the most expensive public works projects in state history, erected a suspension bridge designed to withstand the strongest earthquake expected over the next 1,500 years. It opened to traffic last year.

Q: Could the Bay Area see another Loma Prieta?

A: Yes. Scientists say four fault segments running beneath Northern California have accumulated enough tension to produce quakes of magnitude-6.8 or greater. The Napa region experienced a magnitude-6.0 quake in August that left one person dead and scores injured. Napa County has estimated damage at more than $400 million, much of it to the area's famed wineries.

Q: Is the region ready?

A: There have been about $30 billion worth of upgrades made to roads, water and telecommunications systems and other infrastructure. The next step is to make sure people can stay in their neighborhoods by strengthening buildings and houses. San Francisco has begun tagging apartment buildings and hotels that need new seismic safety evaluations.

“We honestly are in much better shape,” said Chris Poland, an earthquake safety expert, “in being able to restore our lifelines to get going again after a quake.”

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