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Coalinga quake shakes dust off readiness plans

Californians were initially dumbfounded at the destruction wreaked by the May 2 earthquake in the little town of Coalinga - but grateful that personal injuries were few and mostly minor.

Now the experts and ordinary citizens around the state are looking at the event in both broader and narrower perspectives.

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The number of calls coming in over the Earthquake Safety Hotline at the Earthquake Preparedness Center in Palo Alto has increased ''100 percent'' since the quake, says David Hedman, the center's director. People from as far away as San Diego have called asking for a basic earthquake preparedness packet (which costs $4.50).

He notes that the Coalinga temblor, at about 6.0 on the Richter Scale, was a ''moderate'' one, but its impact on both commercial and residential property in the town was graphically recorded by the news media.

According to United States Geological Survey (USGS) experts, the May 2 quake appears to have ''been generated on an ancient, buried thrust fault that once separated the North American continent from the Pacific basin.'' Known as the Coast Range Thrust, it is ''tens of millions of years older'' than the better-known San Andreas Fault, according to the USGS scientists. They explain that in thrust-fault movement, one block moves over the other, while on the San Andreas the faces of the two blocks move in a horizontal direction.

USGS experts say that although the San Andreas Fault ''was not directly involved in the May 2 earthquake,'' sensitive instruments show ''a recent (San Andreas) displacement of as much as 0.2 inches'' near Parkfield, Calif., some 20 miles southwest of Coalinga. But a USGS spokesman says there is no reason to believe the May 2 event will have any effect on the big north-south fault.

Government seismologists say they believe the Coalinga quake was caused by movement in a 20-mile-long fault some five to six miles underground. It's on the ''extreme eastern edge of the 65-mile-wide . . . San Andreas system in central California.''

Although the Coalinga event was unexpected and the particular fault zone unknown, the USGS says the area has ''experienced moderate earthquake activity in the past.''

Both government and volunteer aid to victims of the Coalinga quake has been pouring in. For the some 1,000 left homeless, the federal government is sending in dozens of mobile homes. And a private firm has provided 60 camper trailers. The Small Business Administration and other agencies have begun interviewing homeowners and merchants to arrange disaster loans.

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Not only are increasing numbers of Californians requesting the preparedness packets, said Epicenter's Mr. Hedman, but ''loads of them'' are requesting inspections of their homes to determine earthquake hazards. The center has a team of engineers, mostly from Stanford University, who make such inspections for a modest fee.

California has not exactly ignored the quake threat. As the result of legislation spurred by the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, all public schools and community colleges have been made quake-resistant.

And progress continues. The new San Bernadino County Courthouse in Rancho Cucamonga, a city near the San Andreas Fault, will be separated from its foundation by some 100 accordion-like, steel-and-rubber ''bearings'' designed to offset the effects of a violent earthquake.

Tested and improved at the Earthquake Engineering Research Center at the University of California at Berkeley, the bearings are similar to devices used in construction in France, New Zealand, and South Africa.

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