Background: The Northridge earthquake struck Los Angeles on 17 January 1994, originating from a previously unknown thrust fault. The earthquake measured 6.7 on the Richter scale and caused extensive damage to buildings, utilities and roadways. This report describes injuries occurring in the Northridge earthquake which resulted in death or hospital admission.
Methods: Earthquake-related deaths were identified by the Los Angeles Department of the Coroner. All 78 hospitals in Los Angeles County were screened for earthquake-related admissions and were found in 16 of them. Coroner's records and medical records from the 16 hospitals were individually reviewed to identify earthquake-related injuries and to obtain information about the injury.
Results: A total of 171 earthquake-related injuries was identified in Los Angeles County, 33 were fatal and 138 required hospital admission. Injury rates were approximately equal by gender and increased significantly with increasing age. Most of the fatalities were due to building collapse, and most of the hospital-admitted injuries were caused by falls or being hit by objects. Motor vehicle injuries and burns were also common causes of injury. Head and chest injuries were common among fatalities, and extremity injuries were the most common among those admitted to a hospital.
Conclusion: Earthquakes cause injuries through many mechanisms, and a clearer understanding of these pathways can help focus prevention strategies. Research combining comprehensive surveillance with risk factor assessment can help identify behaviours and circumstances increasing the risk of injury in an earthquake.