California political leaders marked the 20th anniversary of the Northridge earthquake Friday by calling for more aggressive preparations for the bigger one that seismologists say is inevitable.
Pete Wilson, who was governor when the 1994 quake knocked down buildings and freeway overpasses, ruptured water and gas lines, ignited fires and killed about 60 people, said the state was now in better shape to withstand a major temblor.
"But what I think is perhaps in need of significant improvement is the awareness of people that the next one is coming," he said. "We don't know when, we don't know how big, but we do know you can do a great deal to forestall the damage and the loss of life and the injuries."
Wilson and Richard Riordan, who was mayor of Los Angeles when the quake struck, gathered Friday with other political leaders, past and present, at a Cal State Northridge event commemorating the earthquake.
Despite stronger building codes and seismic retrofits of freeways and hospitals, Wilson said, too few Californians have earthquake insurance and too few store enough water and food to survive perhaps two weeks with no power, no running water and no communication other than a radio.
"Northridge was 6.7," Wilson said. "The next one could be as much as 7.3, and as it goes up on the Richter scale, there is exponentially greater force, and therefore predictable damage."
Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who represents much of the San Fernando Valley, recalled that the Northridge quake hit at 4:31 a.m. In the middle of the day, he told the audience, the crumbling of freeways and parking structures "would be a totally different ballgame."
"Let's not fool ourselves," Yaroslavsky said. "We are not really as prepared as we think we are for a 4:31 p.m. earthquake."
On Monday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti launched a one-year project with the U.S. Geological Survey to develop proposals to minimize the devastation of a catastrophic quake, particularly from disrupted water and communications infrastructure.
"We must take action," Garcetti told the Northridge audience, "to ensure that as many lives as possible will be saved when the next Big One hits, as much property protected, and that this city is resilient and ready to get back on its feet."