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Earthquakes on the West Coast--why have there been not as many deadly ones as once predicted?

When I was growing up we were being warned constantly that there were going to be giant earthquakes on the West Coast, but there have been so few major ones in my lifetime: the 1971 San Fernando earthquake (death toll: 65), 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake (death toll: 63), and the Northridge earthquake (death toll: 57). In contrast, there seem to have been far more earthquakes in my lifetime in Turkey and Iran (in particular) where thousands of people are killed each time. I should clarify first of all I'm not complaining, by any means--I'm glad that things have been less disastrous than had been predicted in California, Oregon, and Washington. But was the threat overstated, or is it just that our buildings are far safer than Iran and Turkey (so we have far smaller death tolls), or what?

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