New Staggering Stats for SF Earthquake Risk

Riskiest buildings are primarily residential

30,000 of San Francisco's 120,000 buildings might be destroyed in an earthquake similar to 1989's Loma Prieta rumble according to a San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) report.

Most at risk are "soft-story" residential buildings, which are generally homes or apartments built above parking lots and retail spaces.

Nearly half the homes damaged in the '89 quake were soft-story structures.

Since the most vulnerable buildings are residential, the post-quake recovery efforts could be hampered by massive homelessness much like the displacement of New Orleanians after Hurricane Katrina, according to SPUR.

In the wake of the 1906 earthquake and fire, San Francisco earned the nickname "The City that knows how" for rebuilding so quickly -- largely thanks to residents who camped in hastily built refugee shacks instead of fleeing the city.

A recent report from the city's Department of Building Inspection suggests that $1.5 billion in damages could be avoided if 2,800 of the at-risk structures were required to retrofit for earthquake safety.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has not been in favor of mandatory retrofits, though is reconsidering his stance after recent reports.

However, with the city budget in arrears, real estate prices plummeting and the credit crunch affecting projects like the mayor's pet solar panel rebate program, any government mandated seismic safety program will likely prove unpopular.

At least, until it's too late.

The dry, cloudless skies San Franciscans have been enjoying of late is sometimes superstitiously referred to as "earthquake weather" among residents, and scientists predict that the next tectonic dance party will be significantly more powerful than the one twenty years ago.

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