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No Way to Know When Earthquake Will Hit


A building is partially collapsed due to a 6.0-magnitude earthquake, Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014, in Napa, California.

A building is partially collapsed due to a 6.0-magnitude earthquake, Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014, in Napa, California.


Last Sunday, an earthquake struck the Napa Valley area of northern California. Some roads bent, while underground pipes burst. It was the strongest earthquake to strike the Napa Valley in 15 years. No one was killed, but many people were treated in hospitals.

Scientists say the earthquake last weekend was a magnitude 6 quake.

“The magnitude of the earthquake reflects how much of the Earth’s crust ruptured. It’s really an expression of the total energy that’s released when a part of the Earth’s crust breaks apart.”

David Applegate works for the United States Geological Survey. He says Californians are lucky because the earthquake did not cause major damage to water mains – large pipelines that carry water. He notes that a lot of the losses in quakes are from fires because water mains have been broken, and there is no quick way to fix them.

Mr. Applegate says the timing of the quake in Napa may have saved a lot of lives.

“It happened in the middle of the night. We saw a lot of cases where old brick buildings collapsed onto sidewalks. Those sidewalks were empty.”

He describes that as good luck because earthquakes usually come as a surprise.

“Short-term prediction is not feasible, but what we do know is where large earthquakes occur.”

This means that scientists can predict the likelihood that an earthquake will hit a given area over the next several years. When a quake begins, however, scientists can warn those in its path.

“Once an earthquake starts in one place, we can actually get the characteristics of the event and get an alert out ahead of the strong shaking.”

David Applegate says the warning may not come long before the quake strikes. But he adds that 10 or 20 seconds may be enough to save your life.

“Certainly you can get underneath a sturdy piece of furniture. Drop, cover and hold on.”

Like anything, he says, it is wise to have a plan that includes fresh water and how to find loved ones after the disaster.

“Your quality of life after the event is really dependent on what you’ve done to plan before the event.”

The people of northern California were lucky in what could have been a far more damaging earthquake. But others have cause for celebration. It seems that Napa Valley will continue exporting wine as usual. That is also likely part of the survival plan.

I’m Bob Doughty.

This story was based on a report by VOA’s Arash Arabasadi. It was written for Learning English by George Grow, and edited by Jeri Watson.

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Words in the News

burstv. to break open suddenly

earthquake n. a sudden, violent shaking of the Earth’s surface

fixv. to make good or right again

predict v. to say what one believes will happen in the future

survivaln. continuing to live

Now it’s your turn to use these Words in the News. In the comments section, write a sentence using any of these words and we will give you feedback on your use of vocabulary and grammar.

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