For one thing, the movie depicts several inter-related earthquakes, including a 9.6 quake, and those who study these things say the San Andreas Fault is incapable of producing a temblor that large. They say the biggest shaker on that fault would top out at 8.2 on the Richter scale. That's still a mighty big earthquake, but not movie-worthy cataclysmic.
The October, 1989 Loma Prieta Quake was the largest earthquake to occur in recent times along the San Andreas Fault. This Bay Area shaker registered 6.9 and was responsible for 63 deaths, nearly 3,800 injuries and about $6 billion in damage. A couple of major double-deck roadways partially collapsed and more than 100 buildings came down, though unlike in the film none of them was a skyscraper. There were fires and power outages but very little panic. People really did come together to help their neighbors – and strangers – get through it.
One major difference between the real San Andreas Fault and the one in the movie: much of the film was produced in Australia. They get earthquakes there, too, but through no fault of our own.
I've included video of some of the damage caused by the Loma Prieta Quake, which was felt from Santa Cruz and Monterey, to Oakland in the east and points north of San Francisco. Also, I found some shots of the actual San Andreas Fault. We shot this footage when seismologists built a trench along a portion of it near Palm Springs in 1996.
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