link to main US Geological Survey website
U.S. Geological Survey
Professional Papers 1552-A through 1552-D

Prepared in cooperation with the National Science Foundation

Performance of the Built Environment

Coordinated by Thomas L. Holzer

The Loma Prieta Earthquake Professional Papers

The Loma Prieta Earthquake Professional Papers comprehensively document the magnitude 6.9 earthquake that shook the San Francisco and Monterey Bay regions on October 17, 1989. They contain almost 3000 pages written by 401 investigators of the earthquake. The investigations were funded by a special Congressional appropriation to the U.S. Geological Survey and National Science Foundation after the earthquake to improve understanding of both the complexity of earthquakes and how society can reduce losses in future earthquakes.

photo of damaged and destroyed three-story buildings with rubble in the foreground

Professional Paper 1552 focuses on the response of buildings, lifelines, highway systems, and earth structures to the earthquake. Losses to these systems totaled approximated $5.9 billion. The earthquake displaced many residents from their homes and severely disrupted transportation systems. Some significant findings were:

  • Approximately 16,000 housing units were uninhabitable after the earthquake including 13,000 in the San Francisco Bay region. Another 30,000-35,000 units were moderately damaged in the earthquake. Renters and low-income residents were particularly hard hit.

  • Failure of highway systems was the single largest cause of loss of life during the earthquake. Forty-two of the 63 earthquake fatalities died when the Cypress Viaduct in Oakland collapsed. The cost to repair and replace highways damaged by the earthquake was $2 billion, about half of which was to replace the Cypress Viaduct.

  • Major bridge failures were the result of antiquated designs and inadequate anticipation of seismic loading.

  • Twenty one kilometers (13 mi) of gas-distribution lines had to be replaced in several communities and more than 1,200 leaks and breaks in water mains and service connections had to be excavated and repaired. At least 5 electrical substations were badly damaged, overwhelming the designed redundancy of the electrical system.

  • Instruments in 28 buildings recorded their response to earthquake shaking that provided opportunities to understand how different types of buildings responded, the importance of site amplification, and how buildings interact with their foundation when shaken (soil structure interaction).

This set of publications consists of the following Chapters:

These publications are part of a set of four multi-chapter USGS Professional Papers on the Loma Prieta, California, Earthquake of October 17, 1989. The other three consist of:

Professional Paper 1550, Earthquake Occurrence , Coordinators: William H. Bakun and William H. Prescott

Professional Paper 1551, Strong Ground Motion and Ground Failure, Coordinator: Thomas L. Holzer

Professional Paper 1553, Societal Response, Coordinator: Dennis S. Mileti

For questions about the content of these reports, contact Tom Holzer

Download a copy of the latest version of Adobe Reader for free.

| Help | PDF help | Publications main page |
| Western Professional Papers |
| Geologic Division | Earthquake Hazards Program |

| Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey | Privacy Statement | Disclaimer | Accessibility |

This report is also available from:

USGS Information Services, Box 25286,
Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225
telephone: 888 ASK-USGS; e-mail:

| Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey |
URL of this page:

Maintained by: Michael Diggles
Created: July 17, 2006
Last modified: July 17, 2006 (mfd)