San Francisco

San Francisco Seawall Vulnerable to Major Earthquake: Study

A new study reveals the 100-year-old barrier would not survive a major earthquake

San Francisco's aging seawall is in worse shape than the port thought.

A new study by two independent engineering firms hired by the Port of San Francisco reveals the 100-year-old barrier would not survive intact an earthquake the size of the one that hit in 1906. The seawall is vulnerable to cracking, but only in a major earthquake, according to the study.

"We do have more risk in the sea wall infrastructure than we had previously thought," said Elaine Forbes, interim director for the Port of San Francisco. "And that's because the sea wall is on reclaimed or filled land."

San Francisco's seawall stretches three and a half miles along the Embarcadero and protects 700 acres of the city, including expensive real estate, critical infrastructure and transportation.

The epicenter of the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 was 60 miles south of San Francisco, and it still shook buildings to the ground in the Marina. But damage to San Francisco's seawall during that quake was very minor.

Forbes said a quake the size of the one that struck in 1906 could crack the seawall.

Seawall movement could mean disaster for a large portion of the city and snarl emergency plans. The seawall could give in a large earthquake, which would devastate the city's iconic waterfront.

The study found the most vulnerable area to be around Piers 27 to 31, where the new cruise ship terminal stands. Forbes said the port would need at least $500 million to rebuild that portion of the seawall.

Steven Reel, the port's project manager, said fears that a major break in the wall could flood downtown are overboard.

"First, I want to say the sea wall is not about to fall into the Bay," Reel said.

What Port commissioners heard on Tuesday is it will take $2 billion to rebuild the entire seawall, from Fisherman's Wharf to Mission Creek.

The port intends to spend the next year and a half studying ways to pay for repairs.

At Reds Java House, which sits right on the seawall, the manager said he is more worried about damage to the wall from rising sea levels, particularly during King Tides when water laps over sidewalks and onto the Embarcadero.

The port acknowledged rising sea levels are a concern and said contending with rising sea levels because of global climate change would more than double the repair costs to $5 billion.

Forbes said that is a problem they will be grappling with for decades.

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