On 9 January 1857, a large earthquake of magnitude 7.9 occurred on the San Andreas fault, with rupture initiating at Parkfield in central California and propagating in a southeasterly direction over a distance of more than 360 km. Such a unilateral rupture produces significant directivity toward the San Fernando and Los Angeles basins. Indeed, newspaper reports of sloshing observed in the Los Angeles river point to long-duration (1–2 min) and long-period (2–8 sec) shaking. If such an earthquake were to happen today, it could impose significant seismic demand on present-day tall buildings. Using state-of-the-art computational tools in seismology and structural engineering, validated using data from the 17 January 1994, magnitude 6.7 Northridge earthquake, we determine the damage to an existing and a new 18- story steel moment-frame building in southern California due to ground motion from two hypothetical magnitude 7.9 earthquakes on the San Andreas fault. Our study indicates that serious damage occurs in these buildings at many locations in the region in one of the two scenarios. For a north-to-south rupture scenario, the peak velocity is of the order of 1 m·sec−1 in the Los Angeles basin, including downtown Los Angeles, and 2 m·sec−1 in the San Fernando valley, while the peak displacements are of the order of 1 m and 2 m in the Los Angeles basin and San Fernando valley, respectively. For a south-to-north rupture scenario the peak velocities and displacements are reduced by a factor of roughly 2.

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