1987 Whittier Narrows Earthquake Anniversary A Reminder to Californians

The 30th anniversary of the 1987 magnitude 5.9 Whittier Narrows earthquake is Sunday, and the head of the California Earthquake Authority is using that to remind Californians to buy earthquake insurance.

The quake was reported to have caused $358 million in property damage, equivalent to roughly $760 million today. The earthquake occurred roughly 12 miles east of Los Angeles on a previously unknown fault. The quake was moderate in strength, but it was responsible for eight deaths, numerous injuries and substantial damage.

“So often when we remember the damage a historical earthquake caused, we note the earthquake occurred on a previously unknown fault,” Glenn Pomeroy, CEO of the CEA, said in a statement. “Just like this earthquake, the magnitude-6.7 Northridge quake that struck seven years later was on an unknown fault. Scientists are still discovering new faults. And that’s why we need to remember that no place in our beautiful state is safe from earthquakes—they can strike anywhere, without warning.”

The Whittier Narrows earthquake was particularly destructive in the town of Whittier, the “Old Town” section of Pasadena and the old downtown of Alhambra, where a number of unreinforced masonry buildings suffered partial or complete collapses. Wood-framed structures performed better, but damage such as collapsed or cracked chimneys, cracked plaster, broken windows, and damaged porches and garage doors still occurred. Hundreds of houses and thousands of apartment units were destroyed or heavily damaged.

According to Pomeroy, if the Whittier Narrows quake were to occur today, claim payments to CEA policyholders would use only a very small portion of CEA’s claim-paying capacity.

The CEA is a not-for-profit, privately funded, publicly managed organization that provides residential earthquake insurance.