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If He’s Still Here for the Big One, It’ll Be His Own Fault

I’ve become a full-fledged Californian--and without even getting tattooed, pierced or liposucked. The proof is that whatever Midwestern common sense I once had--and few were blessed with as much--has disappeared.

Only a bona fide Californian would study a local map, see that a major fault line with the potential to kill thousands runs through his neighborhood and still say, “What a great place to live! I think I’ll stay.”

Before moving out here eight years ago, I was no stranger to natural disasters. While living in Nebraska, I had survived in one calendar year both a blizzard and a tornado--the former while holed up at a friend’s house and the latter while cowering in the basement of the newspaper I worked at. Later, during nine years in Colorado, I held up marvelously well in the face of flash floods and hailstorms.

So, when California beckoned, the prospect of earthquakes didn’t faze me. Besides, I had heard of the San Andreas fault and came to learn that it ran well away from Orange County.

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The gap in my knowledge was in not knowing there were other fault lines in Southern California. I had especially not heard, nor been informed, of something called the Newport-Inglewood fault. Imagine my surprise, then, to be leafing through my newspaper one day and see a artist’s two-page rendering of Orange County, highlighted by the Newport-Inglewood fault line.

Unsheathing my compass and T square, I plotted my humble home at virtually dead center on the fault line. Indeed, the artist’s rendering included everything but a skull and crossbones over my intersection.

Dispiriting, to say the least. Worse yet was the experts’ pronouncement that the Newport-Inglewood (stylishly named, isn’t it?) had the potential to do even more damage than the San Andreas.

But now comes the good news.

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A Stanford University study has reduced the anticipated death count if and when the Newport-Inglewood fault slips. The latest figures indicate that a magnitude 7 earthquake along the fault would cause 2,000 to 5,000 deaths. The study also estimated that 15,000 could be hospitalized.

Hip, hip! Drinks all around!

I know Southern California has taken some hits in recent years, but is it now considered a “good news” story to learn that fewer of us will die in a cataclysmic earthquake than previously thought?

You take your good news where you find it, I guess.

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But the question of the day is, why stay? When you know the train is rolling down the track directly at you, why not jump off?

Earthquakes are unlike other natural disasters. For starters, the experts tell us for a certainty a major Newport-Inglewood quake will occur in our lifetime. Maybe as long as 50 years; maybe next week.

It’s not the same as predicting a tornado or a flood. Yes, you know they probably will occur, but they may not. And if they do, they can be so localized that only the most fretful person would lie awake nights worrying about them. For example, the major tornado I lived through killed three people, including one person who went up on the roof for a closer look at it (that person couldn’t have been a native Midwesterner).

The point is, there’s no reason to leave town because of a possible tornado. And that doesn’t even take into account that you have adequate time to hide yourself when other disasters come calling.

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But what’s the rationale for living on a fault line? Especially when you know it’s coming someday and isn’t going to give you two seconds notice?

Why am I not loading up my pots and pans in my jalopy and heading for Oregon (actually, I can’t take credit for that; a reader recently suggested it for totally unrelated reasons).

But it’s a point well taken. Have I somehow deluded myself into thinking they’re wrong about the Newport-Inglewood? Do I somehow think I’ll survive a timber striking me on the old coconut?

I should move. Even if only a few blocks, just so I wouldn’t be sitting right in the middle of that damn fault line.

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My grandma used to say that some people “don’t have the sense God gave a goose.”

Her words come back to me while sitting here reading about the Newport-Inglewood fault and looking again at my cross-streets.

I hear her words while remembering I have no quake insurance and that every time a quake has hit since I’ve lived here I’ve frozen in place.

I hear her words and feel much like a gosling.

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Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by writing to him at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626, or calling (714) 966-7821.


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