An earthquake expert told us there’s one neighborhood in San Francisco where she’d never live

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Otto Greule Jr /Getty

  • Most of the Bay Area is highly vulnerable to future earthquakes.
  • We asked an architect who specializes in engineering research what San Francisco neighborhood she’d never live in.
  • She said her decision was influenced by a variety of factors, but mostly by the area’s soil.

There’s a 76% chance that the Bay Area will experience a more severe earthquake than 1989’s Loma Prieta temblor in the next three decades. On the 112th anniversary of the region’s massive 1906 quake on April 18, it’s a good time to consider what parts of the city are the most vulnerable to destruction.

The central problem lies in San Francisco’s soil.

A lot of it was built on fill added in the latter half of the 19th century by zealous developers wanting to extend the peninsula’s real estate. That fill is marshy and prone to movement. When a quake strikes, it behaves more like a liquid than a solid – a phenomenon known as liquefaction.

“There are all different kinds of vulnerabilities,” Mary Comerio, an architect who specializes in earthquake engineering research and teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, told Business Insider last September. Comerio considers all of them when she’s deciding where to live.

In addition to taking into account the soil’s softness in different neighborhoods, “there are also landslides in areas where we’ve built on quite steep hillsides where we probably shouldn’t have,” Comerio said.

So-called “soft-story” housing is another consideration. In many places, builders have propped heavy, dense apartments above cavernous garages which buckle when the earth beneath them turns to mush.

With all that in mind, there is one stretch of land she’d never consider: the waterfront.

“I don’t want to live on soft soil. I’d love to be able to walk along the bay but I don’t want to live in that setting because I know it’s going to be highly damaged,” Comerio said.

Red areas are prone to a phenomenon known as liquefaction, in which the soil acts like a liquid in the event of a quake.

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Red areas are prone to a phenomenon known as liquefaction, in which the soil acts like a liquid in the event of a quake.
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Google Maps / USGS

Comerio’s insistence on considering the soil conditions in an area has become something of an inside joke to her friends and family, she said.

“I always say, ‘Honey, I like the soil conditions here.'”