Thousands of people are feared dead in Haiti's monster earthquake, and the televised images of people suffering in Port-au-Prince are heartwrenching. It will take a major humanitarian response to save survivors and help deliver food and water to homeless Haitians.
Yet as Californians absorb these images of rubble-strewn neighborhoods and displaced people, they should not view this disaster as a distant catastrophe. Various parts of California remain at extreme risk of killer quakes. Although buildings in California are far safer than those in Haiti -- where building codes are limited or nonexistent -- there still is a potential for major damage here. The levee systems in the delta could liquefy in a major quake. Bridges could crumble and old buildings could collapse.
Cities such as San Francisco have made great strides in reinforcing brick buildings in recent decades. Yet many of these masonry structures have not been adequately reinforced, especially in smaller towns.
On Saturday, Eureka was hit by a magnitude 6.5 earthquake. Two unreinforced masonry buildings were among those that sustained the worst damage.
Preparing for earthquakes in California is somewhat like preparing for floods and fires. The job will never be finished.