TIME natural disaster

Worldwide Earthquake Drill Comes 25 Years After Loma Prieta

Jan. 30, 1995, cover
The Jan. 30, 1995, cover of TIME Cover Credit: TOKYO SHIMBUN/REUTERS

This year's "Great ShakeOut" is Oct. 16; the Loma Prieta earthquake happened Oct. 17, 1989

On Thursday, Oct. 16, — at 10:16 a.m. — the annual Great ShakeOut earthquake drill will ask people around the world to take cover for a minute, practicing what they might do in the case of a real quake. It’s estimated that more than 25 million people will participate in this year’s event, which is organized by the Southern California Earthquake Center.

This coming Friday marks the 25th anniversary of a Californian earthquake that was far from a drill.

On Oct. 17, 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake hit the San Francisco area. A 7.1 on the Richter scale, it was the worst quake in the region since 1906’s legendary tremors. According to TIME’s coverage of the aftermath, it was the “costliest natural disaster in U.S. history” at the time, in terms of dollars. It was estimated that the earthquake would cost the area about $10 billion; the vast majority of affected homes were not covered by earthquake insurance and parts of the I-880 freeway had to be demolished. Some speculated that the residual costs of the quake would stunt the Bay Area’s growth as a financial and business region. A year later, the actual cost was adjusted down to a mere $6 billion, but many people rendered homeless by the event were still without a place to live.

Within five years, however, Loma Prieta had been matched by the 1994 Northridge earthquake in California; a year later, another major quake in Kobe, Japan, brought the topic back into the news (as on the cover of TIME, above). Though the damage from such extensive earthquakes seems like something that a simple drill can’t affect, that’s not actually the case. As TIME put it in the Jan. 30, 1995, issue:

Much of the property damage from earthquakes, however, and not a small number of injuries, result not from cracking buildings but from heavy objects flying around and slamming into human flesh. Homeowners can be far more earthquake savvy, securing furniture, TV sets, bookcases and especially water heaters to the walls. Fires in the wake of an earthquake often do more damage than the quake itself, and many a fire has been caused by a top-heavy water heater keeling over, ripping a gas line out of a cellar wall and breaking it in the process. There is little evidence that people are taking these simple precautions, however. Few of those living around major faults really believe an earthquake is likely to strike until it actually does–and then, of course, it is too late.

The potential for a disastrous earthquake is no different today than it was back then — but, 25 years after Loma Prieta, millions of people are trying to do something before it’s too late.

TIME Natural Disasters

20 Million Set to Take Part in ‘Great ShakeOut’ Earthquake Drill

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate speaks during an event on earthquake preparedness Oct. 14, 2014 at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate speaks during an event on earthquake preparedness Oct. 14, 2014 at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC. Alex Wong—Getty Images

At 10:16 a.m on Thursday, millions of people around the world will practice the "drop, cover and hold on" moves

More than 20 million people around the world on Thursday are expected to take part in the Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills, an annual event that promotes earthquake readiness.

At 10:16 a.m. on Oct. 16, participants will practice the government-recommended “drop, cover and hold on” protocol, which involves getting on the ground, taking cover under a table or desk and holding on until the earthquake is over.

With 10.32 million people registered, California has the highest participation of any U.S. state or nation taking part. ShakeOut events are also happening inNew Zealand, Japan, Southern Italy and parts of Canada as well. More than 25 million people in total are participating in a ShakeOut event of some kind during 2014, according to the Great ShakeOut organization.

ShakeOuts started in California, where earthquakes are common, but soon spread to other states, and the drills are usually coordinated with local emergency services.

TIME Nepal

More Than 20 Dead, Dozens Remain Missing as Blizzards Batter Himalayas

Nepal Avalanche
In this photo provided by the Nepalese army, soldiers carry an avalanche victim before he is airlifted in Thorong La pass area, in Nepal, on Oct. 15, 2014 AP

Four Canadians, three Israelis reportedly among the deceased, authorities still searching for some 85 missing persons

The effects of Cyclone Hudhud, which battered India’s east coast over the weekend, are being felt further north, as resultant blizzards in neighboring Nepal’s Annapurna region killed at least 20 people on Wednesday.

Officials said that nine locals, three Polish nationals, three Israelis and one Vietnamese were killed in the region’s Mustang district, according to the Indian Express. Four Canadians and an Indian also lost their lives in the neighboring district of Manang, and the search for nearly 85 others reported missing is being focused on the Thorang pass that connects the two areas.

Reuters reported that the Nepalis killed were a group of yak herders and that the search for hikers, which was called off Wednesday night local time owing to bad light and weather, resumed on Thursday morning. “One army helicopter has already left for the site and more helicopters will be pressed into service later,” said Mustang district Governor Baburam Bhandari.

This week’s disaster, which took place during Nepal’s peak trekking season, marks a bad year for the country’s tourism industry. Several Sherpa guides lost their lives in an avalanche at the base of Mount Everest in April, the worst accident in the history of the world’s tallest mountain. CNN reports that many Sherpas refused to go back up Everest after the incident, and as many as six trekking companies canceled their 2014 expeditions.

Kathmandu-based Adventure Mountain Explore Treks and Expedition are still heading out while exercising a great deal of caution and restraint in all situations.

Tika Regmi, who heads the company’s trekking and mountaineering department, says all his guides are advised to stay put during a natural disaster, or immediately descent if safe. “But some guides and Sherpas feel they need to listen to the customers’ wishes,” he tells TIME. According to Regmi, there are foreign trekkers who feel getting their money’s worth is most important and will press on despite adverse conditions. “But no amount of money is more valuable than their lives,” he says.

Three Adventure Mountain guides are currently at a guesthouse with their clients, and Regmi says it was their reading of the situation that saved their lives. Another company, whom he did not wish to name, pressed on and now has several groups missing. “It’s a natural disaster so no one can control,” he says. “We can only control our people and our guides.”

Regmi has already started receiving emails with requests for cancellations. He says the danger should pass within a week as the weather improves, but does worry about the long-term impact of these incidents.

“I’m sure it’s not a good message for people who are coming from all over the world,” he says.

TIME States

California Declares a State of Emergency as Wildfires Spread

"It's been an explosive couple of days"

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency late Wednesday in two northern counties as wildfires spread with explosive speed.

A fire in El Dorado County east of Sacramento more than doubled in size Wednesday night, from 44 square miles to 111 square miles, the Los Angeles Times reports, and was just 5% contained by Thursday morning. A separate fire in the northern Siskiyou County that started late Monday has damaged more than 150 structures, including a churches, and was about 65% contained.

“It’s been an explosive couple of days,” CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant told the Associated Press. Thousands of firefighters are helping to tackle the blazes, which threaten some 4,000 homes.

Federal aid has been apportioned to cover the cost of fighting the fire that began Monday, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency granted a request Wednesday for additional aid to combat the fire in El Dorado.

[Los Angeles Times]

TIME indonesia

See Indonesia’s Mount Slamet Spew Lava and Ash

Mount Slamet spews lava and gas during its eruption as seen from Pandansari village in Brebes, Central Java, Indonesia on Sept. 18, 2014.
Mount Slamet spews lava and gas during its eruption as seen from Pandansari village in Brebes, Central Java, Indonesia on Sept. 18, 2014. Idhad Zakaria—AP

Authorities are prepared to evacuate thousands of people if the threat level rises

Indonesia’s Mount Slamet began spewing lava again Thursday morning after a four-day silence, sending ash tumbling down on nearby villages.

Authorities banned activity within four kilometers of the peak and are prepared to evacuate some 24,000 residents from seven villages with roughly four miles of the crater, the Associated Press reports.

The eruption Thursday followed a series of loud bangs and sent molten material as much as 3,000 feet above the peak, according to the Jakarta Post. Forests on the northern side of the volcano were destroyed.

The alert status has stood at level 3 since August—a level 4 alert, the highest, would prompt the evacuation, according to the Post. The volcano, one of about 130 across the country, last erupted in 2009.

TIME natural disaster

Volcano Erupts in Papua New Guinea, Diverting Flights

PNG-VOLCANO
A photo taken on August 29, 2014, shows Mount Tavurvur erupting in eastern Papua New Guinea, spewing rocks and ash into the air, forcing the evacuation of local communities and international flights to be re-routed. Joyce Lessimanuaja—AFP/Getty Images

A volcanic eruption in Papua New Guinea on Friday sent smoke and ash spewing high over the South Pacific island nation, leading some aircraft to alter their flight paths.

Mount Tavurvur on East New Britain Island erupted hours before dawn, a bulletin from the Rabaul Volcanological Observatory said. There have been no reports of injuries…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME natural disaster

How 10 Seconds Could Save Lives During Earthquakes

Napa Area Businesses Continue Recovery Effort From Earthquake
A crack runs down the center of an earthquake-damaged street in Napa, Calif., on Aug. 26, 2014 Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

California eyes warning system after latest quake

Ten seconds could save your life. That’s the message from researchers developing an early-warning system in California that could eventually alert the public an earthquake is about to hit.

The research program, run by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in partnership with several California universities, is still in beta form, but was put to the test last weekend when an earthquake struck the Napa area. At the University of California, Berkeley, to the south, the system detected and sent out a warning signal to the scientists about six seconds before the tremor reached the area.

The technology behind the system uses sensors across the state that detect early waves from an earthquake before the main event strikes. While it’s not possible to issue warnings to those located right next to an earthquake epicenter, those further away could be warned seconds or even a minute in advance.

Doug Given, USGS’s early-earthquake-warning coordinator, says 10 seconds might not seem like a lot, but it could be enough for people to take cover before an earthquake hits and for public services and private industry to take precautionary steps. This might include systems that force elevators to let passengers off at the closest available floor and those that let first responders know they should open garage doors ahead of tremors so they can quickly begin search-and-rescue missions afterward. Given says other applications include letting hospitals know an earthquake is coming, so they can prepare doctors and patients. “If you’re in an MRI machine, you might want them to pull you out before it starts shaking hard,” says Given. Likewise, he says surgeons performing delicate operations — on eyes, for example — could have notice that their work is about to be interrupted.

“Imagine being a dental chair,” says Margaret Vinci, manager of the Office of Earthquake Programs for the California Institute of Technology, one of the colleges partnering with USGS. “Would you not want that dentist to pull that drill out of your mouth?”

Given and Vinci also say a statewide early-earthquake-warning system could tell rapid transit systems to slow trains to help prevent derailments. A similar alert program exists in earthquake-prone Japan, where earthquake warning alerts automatically slow bullet trains.

Japan and Mexico are two countries that already have the kind of earthquake-warning system California lacks. Devastating quakes in those countries prompted major public investments in such systems. As recently as April, residents in Mexico City had a full minute of warning before a 7.2-magnitude quake 170 miles away rocked the capital.

California’s program, though, is hobbled by lack of adequate funding, according to Given, who says the program needs an investment of $80 million over five years and about $12 million a year to maintain operations. California passed a law recently calling for a statewide early-earthquake-warning system to be set up, but did not provide funding. Given says the program currently includes about 400 sensors set up around the state, but needs at least double that figure for the warning system to be fully functional. “We hope we will be the first country that builds its system before the big earthquake rather than after,” Givens says.

Investments in the system itself wouldn’t include spending by local governments and private businesses that would need to establish response plans, and possibly automated systems, to take advantage of the USGS warnings. As for the public, earthquake warnings could be sent out via text message and through local television and radio stations, but that too requires advance planning and spending. Vinci says if the early-warning system was fully funded, it could be ready for public consumption in two years.

In the meantime, researchers involved in the project are asking public and private organization to test whether the alert system works and offer suggestions about how to improve it. Disneyland, the city of Long Beach and the Bay Area Rapid Transit system are among those serving as testers. Researchers are also studying which kinds of warning sounds and signals work best with the public. When activated, the existing system, which is called ShakeAlert and which runs on computers for those involved in the program or serving as beta testers, kicks in to tell users an earthquake is coming, how soon it will happen and how severe the shake will be. The warning includes a loud quick buzz with a speaker saying, ”Earthquake! Earthquake!”

“Right now the ShakeAlert we have now is kinda scary,” Vinci says.

TIME natural disaster

Damage from California Earthquake Could Top $1 Billion

6.0 Earthquake Rattles Northern California
A building is seen destroyed following a reported 6.0 earthquake on Aug. 24, 2014 in Napa, Calif. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Strongest to strike northern California in 25 years

The earthquake that struck northern California over the weekend is estimated to have caused at least $1 billion in damage and economic losses.

The 6.0-magnitude earthquake was the strongest the area has experienced in 25 years, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS estimated the high economic loss from the widespread damage the quake caused. More than 60,000 Californians were left without power in the quake’s wake. California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in the effected area on Sunday, which includes Napa, Solano, and Sonoma counties.

The USGS said there is a 29% probability for a strong aftershock within the next week, though there is only a 5-10% chance that any aftershock will be stronger than the initial quake within the next week.

TIME natural disaster

Northern California Earthquake Leaves Area Devastated

The worst earthquake in California's Napa Valley in 25 years left scores injured and widespread damage in its wake

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