Photo Source: U.S. Geological Survey

M5.9 Whittier Narrows Earthquake Strikes 30 Years Ago

Editors note: Information for this story was previously published on October 5, 2016.

Thirty years ago today, a magnitude 5.9 earthquake, commonly referred to as Whittier Narrows, rattled the San Gabriel Valley at 7:41 a.m.

Centered several miles north of Whittier in the town of Rosemead, the earthquake caused an estimated $358 million in property damage, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). There were also eight fatalities and several hundred injured.

Although the initial rupture caused the most significant damage, a magnitude 5.2 aftershock three days later contributed to additional injuries and one death. The aftershock alone was stronger than the magnitude 4.2 Whittier earthquake in 1929, which heavily damaged a school and two homes.

Damage from the 1987 Whittier Narrows Earthquake was more extensive, primarily in surrounding communities, including:

  • Buildings collapsed in Pasadena, about 26 miles from Whittier, and the earthquake could be felt nearly 300 miles away in Las Vegas, as well as in San Diego and San Luis Obispo.
  • Business structures in the old Whittier commercial district were severely damaged and, within a 24-square-block shopping area of Whittier Village, 12 commercial buildings had to be razed and another 20 buildings were deemed unsafe.
  • 123 single-family homes and 1,347 apartment units were destroyed, while 513 single-family homes and 2,040 apartment units sustained major damage in Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties combined.
  • Ruptured natural gas lines caused approximately 70 small fires, and windows were shattered at the Burbank airport.

The magnitude 5.9 was the strongest earthquake in the Los Angeles area since the 1971 San Fernando Earthquake, which was a magnitude 6.5. The Puente Hills thrust fault, which stretches from the San Gabriel Valley to downtown Los Angeles and caused the Whittier Narrows earthquake, was also responsible for a 5.1 earthquake near La Habra in 2014.

The persistent threat of earthquakes occurring in California is a constant reminder to be prepared and have a plan ready. Later this month, The Great ShakeOut will educate Californians on how to Drop, Cover and Hold On at 10:19 a.m. on Oct. 19.


Additional resources and more information about the Whittier Narrows Earthquake:

Cal OES Earthquake Preparedness


Great ShakeOut


Robb Mayberry

Robb Mayberry is a Public Information Officer for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. He has assisted in the response and recovery efforts with some of California’s worst disasters, including the San Refugio Oil Spill, the Valley and Butte Wildfires, Aliso Canyon Gas Leak, Erskine Fire, and the Winters Storms of 2017. Prior to public service, he spent 25 years managing the public and media relations for some of Northern California’s largest healthcare organizations.

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