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The Big One: Scientists Say the East Bay is Overdue for the Largest Earthquake in Centuries. And We're Not Prepared.

A Hayward Fault shaker will be way, way worse than 1989's Loma Prieta quake.

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"And people think that the government will come in and bail them out, and that doesn't happen," he said. "The federal government isn't in the business of rebuilding uninsured homes."

Unfortunately, 90 percent of homes in California lack earthquake insurance, although policies are up over the past six or seven years, Pomeroy explained. (The CEA hosts a quake-insurance premium calculator on its site, EarthquakeAuthority.com.)

For East Bay resident Jeffrey Royer, whose home sits almost exactly on the Hayward Fault, his personal earthquake-preparedness plan is loosely built on the assumption that his home will not be entirely demolished. He keeps flashlights handy around the house. "And there's water in the water heater and the toilets," he said.

When he and his wife bought the home in the early 1990s, they knew of the danger and had it retrofitted to seismic codes, for which the city offers a significant rebate. Royer's home was anchored firmly to its foundation, which will stabilize it some when the fault slips. (The same measure, though, will not save neighbors' homes built directly on the fault; they may be sheared in half.)

But Royer isn't particularly worried about earthquakes. "I don't really think about it," he said. "What can I do?"

In his own home, Sitar and his wife each have their own earthquake backpack containing a flashlight, gloves, freeze-dried food, and a blanket. Sitar isn't very concerned about drinking water, and he says the common advisories that people keep a drum of potable water in their basements or backyards, to tide them through the dry spell likely to follow a large quake, are probably overly cautious.

"The chances that we'll be without water for seven days are very, very low," the professor said. "The fact is, there's a lot of water out there."

Most people, he says, have enough liquids in their refrigerators and pantries to get them through a day or two of post-quake hard times.

No matter how destructive the Hayward Fault's next lurch — and it will be destructive — experts assured that the Big One will not be the end of the world.

"Don't get me wrong," Hudnut said. "The number of people who are going to be killed will be really, really bad.

"But it won't be something we can't recover from if we just prepare for it."

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