BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – It’s been 70 years since Kern County’s defining natural disaster: the 1952 earthquake and its nerve-shattering aftershocks.
The earthquake of July 21, 1952, destroyed the town of Tehachapi and killed 12 people in that area of the county. The strongest of the many aftershocks that followed 33 days later killed two more and changed the face of Bakersfield.
Few places on earth are as vulnerable to the capricious whims of the planet’s seismic tantrums than the Golden State. Some California earthquakes – between magnitude 6.6 and 7.8 – are the most famous in the nation’s memory.
Those earthquakes included:
— 2019 / 7.1 – Ridgecrest: 30 million people from Sacramento to Baja Mexico felt its 24 shocks and aftershocks over three terrifying days.
– 1994 / 6.7 – Northridge: Its peak g-force acceleration was the highest ever recorded with modern instrumentation in a North American city.
— 1992 / 7.3 — Landers: Shook San Bernadino County and killed three.
— 1989 / 6.9 — Loma Prieta: It felled Bay Area freeway interchanges, interrupted a World Series and caused $10 billion in damage.
— 1971 / 6.6 – Sylmar: Epicenter – the magic mountain amusement park, rattling outward 300 miles along the southern California coast. It killed 65 and injured 2,000.
As devastating as those major California earthquakes were, they pale in comparison to two earlier in the 20th Century.
— 1906 / 7.8 – San Francisco: Between the collapsed buildings and the ensuing fires, the ‘06 earthquake killed 3,000 and displaced nearly a quarter of a million.
— 1952 / 7.3 – Kern County: The third largest earthquake in recorded California history devastated the small towns of Tehachapi and Arvin. It was but a prelude, however. Seismic activity shook chandeliers and nerves for 33 long days, culminating in what we remember today as the Bakersfield earthquake of August 22, 1952, the Tehachapi quake’s deadly bookend.
Kern County had an earthquake at Fort Tejon in 1857 that was even bigger than the San Francisco earthquake. So two of the state’s three largest earthquakes in the last 200 years were centered right here.
How well are we prepared?
You can see one important line of defense on the side of many buildings in downtown Bakersfield, square flat metal plates a few feet below the roof line. Those are attached to metal rods that run through their attics and connect structural joists with the walls. Do they make buildings earthquake proof? Absolutely not. They buy you time to get out before the roof caves in.
Note: This post has been updated to include the Landers earthquake of 1992.