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Waiting for `The Big One' to Shake San Francisco: QuickTake Q&A

The Marina district disaster zone after an earthquake hit San Francisco in 1989.

The Marina district disaster zone after an earthquake hit San Francisco in 1989.

Photographer: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
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What happens to the San Francisco Bay area when the next major earthquake strikes? That’s the question seismologists are pondering as a key milestone approaches for a quake on the so-called Hayward Fault, which runs along the East Bay waterfront occupied by Oakland, Berkeley and other towns. San Francisco is the second-most-densely populated city in the country, after New York; the Bay area is home to seven of the 10 largest U.S. technology companies by market capitalization and more than 25 percent of the country’s technology workers. Three years after an unexpected temblor shocked the wine country of Napa Valley, northeast of San Francisco, the wait continues for "The Big One."

The term is commonly used to describe something on the order of the devastating 1906 earthquake that destroyed 80 percent of San Francisco and killed about 3,000 people. Scientists generally consider any earthquake of magnitude 7 or higher to be a major earthquake; the 1906 quake, which occurred on the San Andreas Fault, had an estimated magnitude of 7.8.