An earthquake warning 6,000 miles away

People move debris around vehicles and fallen walls.
Rescue workers sift through debris after the 2003 Paso Robles, Calif., earthquake.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. It’s Friday, Sept. 15. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

  • Moroccan earthquake highlights California’s vulnerability
  • Striking workers may soon be able to collect unemployment benefits
  • The best fast-food soft serve ice cream
  • And here’s today’s e-newspaper

An earthquake warning 6,000 miles away

A magnitude 6.8 earthquake rocked Marrakech, Morocco, a week ago. More than 2,900 people have died (rescuers are finding more remains every day), and more than 5,500 are injured. Countless more are missing.

Most of the buildings destroyed in the earthquake were made of brick or unreinforced masonry adobe. Buildings in Morocco are designed to keep cool in extreme heat, but the building materials are vulnerable in an earthquake. And that underscores a harsh reality: Crumbling buildings are what make earthquakes deadly.


Morocco’s destruction is “very similar to what can happen with brick buildings in California,” Craig Chamberlain, president of the Structural Engineers Assn. of Southern California, told my colleagues Rong-Gong “Ron” Lin II and Summer Lin.

California’s older buildings could crumble if a similar earthquake struck

After the 1971 San Fernando earthquake killed 64 people and damaged hundreds of buildings, codes changed for buildings to require more steel and wood (which can bend and give as the earth moves underneath) along with other earthquake-safe building approaches. But so many buildings are grandfathered in to older codes.

More than 1,000 concrete buildings are still spread throughout Los Angeles.

[Read more: How concrete buildings fail in an earthquake]

L.A. County owns 33 of those buildings, including its administration building, coroner’s office and public health department headquarters. Hundreds of more at-risk buildings fall on the San Andreas, San Jacinto, and Cucamonga fault lines, and have never been retrofitted to withstand a large earthquake.

Local governments are requiring more earthquake retrofitting, but it’s not exactly happening fast


The L.A. County Board of Supervisors has taken steps toward a mandatory earthquake retrofit order, asking officials to prepare new rules that would require brittle or collapsible buildings owned by the county (plus any in unincorporated areas) to be retrofitted within 10 years of going into effect. They also asked for an inventory of structures vulnerable to earthquakes, known as “soft-story” residential buildings.

Santa Monica has also given a 10-year deadline by 2027 and West Hollywood a 20-year one till the 2040s.

But across the area, many private buildings still need retrofitting too. People are nervous about the price tag and who should shoulder the burden. A retrofit can cost up to $130,000 for a wooden apartment and millions for a larger concrete building. In 2016, the L.A. City Council approved a 50-50 sharing plan in which building owners can pass half the retrofit costs to tenants through rent increases over a 10-year period.

I asked Ron, who has covered earthquakes for the L.A. Times for years, what it will take to pressure more cities to retrofit and enforce laws and for owners to strengthen their buildings. He pointed to one major incentive: lawsuits.

The families of two women who died after the 2003 Paso Robles, Calif., earthquake received $2 million when the jury found the property owners negligent for not retrofitting the building sooner, even though the deadline to do it had not yet passed.

More from us:


Today’s top stories

Stan Lyles speaks at a rally where people carry a banner saying Fair Wages for Healthcare Workers.
(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

The legislative session in Sacramento ended late last night. Here’s what happened:

More workers prepare to strike as labor fallout continues

A legislative fix to California’s crumbling insurance market failed to materialize

  • As insurance companies pull out of the state, lawmakers scrambled this week to fix California’s home insurance mess and failed. But change could still be coming.

More big stories

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Commentary and opinions

Today’s great reads

A group of people sitting on couches around a coffee table in a bar and talking together.
(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

Actors and writers aren’t just striking. They’re grieving too. Because union members are choosing to strike, they may hesitate to describe their experiences as grief, “and yet, that’s exactly what it is. They’re losing out. They’re feeling a loss every single day not doing the thing that they love,” says grief support specialist Rebecca Feinglos.


Other great reads

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For your downtime

Two dancers toss another dancer into the air
(Josh Rose)

Going out

Staying in

And finally ... a great photo

A woman walks along a mountain road
(Zamar Velez / For The Times)

Today’s great photo from photographer Zamar Velez is part of The Times’ “Image Makers” series that celebrates the homegrown fashion luminaries who are designing a global fashion future built from the L.A. that was.


In the photo, Velez re-envisions Mulholland Drive as a fashion runway.

Have a great day, from the Essential California team

Helen Li, reporting fellow
Kevinisha Walker, multiplatform editor
Laura Blasey, assistant editor
Karim Doumar, head of newsletters

Check our top stories, topics and the latest articles on

For the record: The Sept. 7 edition of the newsletter described the FAIR plan as state-sponsored. It was created by the state, but is managed by a private association of state-licensed insurers.