Owens Valley Earthquake – California – March 26, 1872

The town of Lone Pine, California, was hit with an earthquake of magnitude 7.4. This earthquake destroyed a seventy-mile fault line and killed twenty-seven. Although one of the largest quakes in California’s history the death toll was small because there were few people living here in 1872.

The town of Lone Pine, California, two hundred miles north of Los Angeles and fifty miles west of the Nevada border, was virtually leveled when the entire seventy-mile length of the Owens Valley fault ruptured on March 26, 1872. It was one of the largest earthquakes in United States history with a magnitude of 7.4. There were fewer than three hundred people in Lone Pine. Twenty-seven of them were killed and fifty-six others suffered cuts and bruises. All the adobe homes were destroyed. The event was felt throughout most of California and Nevada, and as far as Salt Lake City, Utah. Adobe and brick buildings sustained the brunt of the damage. Minor damage also occurred two hundred and fifty miles away in the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys on the western side of the Sierra Nevada. In Yosemite Valley one hundred and fifty miles to the north the earthquake triggered a landslide.

As severe as the ground shaking must have been, it was noted that no one would have been killed or hurt if the houses had been made of wood. The characteristic log homes of early settlement always provided good protection against earthquakes. Numerous depressions and uplifts occurred in and around Lone Pine as would be expected from an event that displaced the Owens Valley fault horizontally by as much as twenty feet. In one location, an area two hundred and fifty feet long sank twenty-five feet while a neighboring stretch of land of comparable size rose by twenty feet. Many comparisons have been drawn between the Owens Valley earthquake and the great San Andrea earthquakes of 1857, the Fort Tejon earthquake, and 1906, the Great San Francisco event. The extent of the land area shaken by each of these three events is comparable, as are the maximum fault displacements. All of them can be classified as great on the basis of the lengths of the ruptures that occurred in the faults but their seismic magnitudes are all much smaller than, for instance, the Alaska earthquake of 1964.

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