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Next Valley earthquake – not if, but when

Along with the upside of world-class wineries, a robust cuisine culture and Sonoma’s location at the birthplace of the Bear Republic, Valley residents have learned to live with the downside: They’re riding along a strike slip fault zone of two of the planet’s major plates that are moving in opposite directions.

And sometimes, like early last Sunday morning, those plates rasp and heave in a seismic shift that leaves property damaged, power lines down and nerves rattled – or worse.

But don’t think that Sunday’s 6.0 (or 6.1) earthquake in Napa in some way inoculated us against another one. That’s the message that Tom Brocher, the director of the USGS Earthquake Science Center, has for Sonoma residents. The opposite, in fact, is the more likely scenario.

There have been three other significant earthquakes in the area, dating back to the so-called San Francisco Earthquake of April 18, 1906 – estimated at about 7.7 on the “moment magnitude scale” that geologists now use to replace the similar Richter scale. Other notable events that have shaken the county include a pair of Oct. 2, 1969, earthquakes just north of Santa Rosa, that measured about 5.7, and the Oct. 17, 1989, Loma Prieta quake (often remembered as the “World Series Earthquake”) of 6.9 MMS.

While the 1989 quake did very little damage locally, the 1906 quake had an even larger destructive impact on Santa Rosa than it did on San Francisco. Many buildings were damaged in the City by the Bay during that quake, but it was the resultant fire that turned the event into a disaster.

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