1933 Long Beach earthquake

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1933 Long Beach earthquake
Relief map of California.png
Green pog.svg
Los Angeles
UTC  time1933-03-11 01:54:00
ISC  event 905457
Local dateMarch 10, 1933 (1933-03-10)
Local time5:54 P.M. PST [1]
Magnitude6.4 Mw [2]
Depth10 km (6.2 mi) [2]
Epicenter 33°37′52″N118°00′00″W / 33.631°N 118.000°W / 33.631; -118.000 Coordinates: 33°37′52″N118°00′00″W / 33.631°N 118.000°W / 33.631; -118.000 [3]
Type Strike-slip [4]
Areas affected South Coast (California)
United States
Total damage$40 million [1]
Max. intensity VIII (Severe) [1]
Casualties115–120 killed [1] [5]
Damage to the John Muir School, Pacific Avenue, Long Beach 1933 Long Beach earthquake damage 1.jpg
Damage to the John Muir School, Pacific Avenue, Long Beach
Damaged buildings throughout Long Beach Architect and engineer (1934) (14578209967).jpg
Damaged buildings throughout Long Beach

The 1933 Long Beach earthquake took place on March 10 at 5:54 P.M. PST south of downtown Los Angeles. The epicenter was offshore, southeast of Long Beach, California, on the Newport–Inglewood Fault. The earthquake had a magnitude estimated at 6.4 Mw , and a maximum Mercalli intensity of VIII (Severe). Damage to buildings was widespread throughout Southern California. It resulted in 115 to 120 fatalities and an estimated forty million dollars' worth of property damage, equivalent to $800 million in 2020. The majority of the fatalities resulted from people running out of buildings exposing themselves to the falling debris.



Compton High School Compton Junior High School, 1933.jpg
Compton High School

The major damage occurred in the densely populated city of Long Beach on the south-facing coast of Los Angeles County. However, the damage was also found to have extended to the industrial area south of downtown Los Angeles. The magnitude of the earthquake is considered to be medium but a significant amount of damage was left due to unfavorable geological conditions (landfill, water-soaked alluvium) combined with poorly constructed buildings. In Long Beach, buildings collapsed, water tanks fell through roofs, and houses were tossed off their foundations. School buildings were among the structures that incurred the most severe damage. [6] It was recognized that unreinforced masonry bearing walls was the reason that school buildings suffered so much damage in the wake of the earthquake. [7]


The earthquake highlighted the need for earthquake-resistant design for structures in California. Many school buildings were damaged, with more than 230 school buildings that either were destroyed, suffered major damage, or were judged unsafe to occupy. The California State Legislature passed the Field Act on April 10, 1933, mandating that school buildings must be earthquake-resistant. If the earthquake had occurred during school hours, the death toll would have been much higher. [8]

This earthquake prompted the government to play an active role in disaster relief. The government created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, providing loans for the reconstruction of buildings that were affected during the natural disaster. The Bureau of Public Roads also took action to rebuild roads, highways, and bridges. [9] The economy of Long Beach was able to return to normal swiftly because of the rise of the aircraft industry. To support the World War II efforts, Long Beach created naval yards and increased the number of aircraft produced. This directly helped Long Beach repair and stabilize the economy after the disaster. [10]


A 2016 press release by the United States Geological Survey indicates that research shows the 1933 Long Beach earthquake may have been man-made, caused by oil and gas extraction underneath the city. [11] Further studies indicate that several, if not most earthquakes during the peak years of Los Angeles's oil boom were likely caused by tectonic stress induced by methods used at the time which did not replace the millions of barrels of removed oil with other liquids. [12] [13]

The 1933 film Headline Shooter , uses newsreel footage of the Long Beach earthquake. The 1933 documentary Quake! Its Effect on Long Beach and Compton California by Guy D. Haselton [14] also features contemporary footage. [15] [16]

The earthquake plays a major part in the novel The Last Tycoon (1941), by F. Scott Fitzgerald. During the disruption caused by the quake, the hero, Monroe Stahr, meets Kathleen Moore, with whom he falls in love.

The earthquake is also included in John Fante's Ask the Dust (1939).

A radio newscast announces the aftermath of the earthquake in Season One, Episode Five of The Waltons .

This earthquake was mentioned by one of the guest characters, played by actor Ian Wolfe in Season Three, Episode One of Police Woman , who also mentions the 1971 San Fernando earthquake as the "Big One of '71".

Footage of the earthquake appeared in the film Encounter with Disaster, released in 1979 and produced by Sun Classic Pictures.

See also

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Further reading