Journal article Open Access

Profile of Mortality from the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake using Coroner and Medical Examiner Reports

Eberhart-Phillips, Jason E.; Saunders, Theresa M.; Robinson, Amy L.; Hatch, Douglas L.; Parrish, R. Gibson

Mortality patterns from earthquakes in the United States may differ from those observed in other parts of the world. We reviewed coroner and medical examiner records for all investigated deaths from seven California counties for 15 days following the Loma Prieta earthquake of October 17, 1989 (N = 327). Data on the circumstances surrounding death were used to classify each case as directly earthquakerelated, indirectly earthquake‐related, or not earthquake‐related. Fifty‐seven deaths were judged as directly earthquake‐related. Six other deaths were indirectly related. Ten circumstances accounted for all directly earthquake‐related deaths, with the collapse of an elevated freeway accounting for 40 of these deaths. Forty‐six (80.8 per cent) of the 57 directly earthquake‐related deaths occurred in motor vehicles on public roadways. Fifty‐three (93.0 per cent) of the directly earthquake‐related deaths occurred within seconds or minutes of injury. Future earthquake deaths in the United States may best be prevented by identifying and modifying seismic hazards in earthquake‐prone regions, particularly transportation structures.

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