Southern California hit by Hurricane Hilary and 5.1 magnitude earthquake - the state's past natural disasters

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A 5.1 magnitude earthquake hit the state as it prepared for Hurricane Hilary to hit

A state of emergency has been declared in California after a 5.1-magnitude earthquake hit the state while a tropical storm brought heavy rains and flooding.

Large areas in Southern California are underwater as a result of Hurricane Hilary making landfall on August 20 while buildings were rattled as a result of the earthquake.

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The hurricane first made landfall in Mexico before it travelled north and hit the US west coast where at least one death has been confirmed.

Images show the devastation caused by the large amounts of water including a submerged Dodger Stadium. It is the first tropical storm Southern California has seen in many decades.

The state is no stranger to natural disasters though, as NationalWorld takes a look back.

When did California last have a tropical storm?

Storms frequently hit California - in fact at least six are known to hit the state since 2020. They usually make landfall between August and October when rainfall is higher.

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However, a tropical storm like Hurricane Hilary has not hit Southern California for quite some time.

A similar storm hit the state back in 1939 in what was known as the 1939 Long Beach tropical storm or 1939 California tropical storm. It is also sometimes referred to as El Cordonazo.

This devastating storm was the only tropical storm to hit California in the 20th century - showing how they are more rare.

Most of the fatalities as a result of this storm were those at sea but a total of nearly 100 people died as a result of the storm.

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Along with Hurricane Hillary and the 1939 storm, only four other Pacific coast tropical cyclones have caused gale-force winds on the US mainland.

A broken tree limb partially blocks a road as Tropical Storm Hilary moves through the area on August 20, 2023 in Cathedral City, California.A broken tree limb partially blocks a road as Tropical Storm Hilary moves through the area on August 20, 2023 in Cathedral City, California.
A broken tree limb partially blocks a road as Tropical Storm Hilary moves through the area on August 20, 2023 in Cathedral City, California. | Getty Images

Other more recent notable storms that have hit California include Hurricane Kathleen (1976), Hurricane Heather (1977), and Hurricane Linda in 2015.

Previous earthquakes in California

Earthquakes are nothing new in California. In fact, experts say the state is hit with hundreds of earthquakes a day that cause little or no damage.

The recent 5.1 magnitude earthquake in California was enough to visibly shake houses, but thankfully at the time of writing no injuries directly linked to the quake have been reported.

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More devastating earthquakes have previously been reported in the area.

The biggest recorded California earthquake dates back to 1857. A 220-mile surface scar was left behind as two people were killed in a 7.9 magnitude earthquake. The area of Fort Tejon was the worst damaged.

Another earthquake in 1906 - the San Francisco earthquake - was 7.8 in magnitude, but far more devastating and remains the deadliest earthquake in US history.

Northern California was hit by the earthquake which caused widespread destruction in San Francisco as around 80 percent of structures were damaged.

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More than 3,000 people are known to have died and ensuing fires lasted for several days.

Much more recently was the 6.7 magnitude earthquake in 1994 known as the Northridge earthquake.

This was one of the costliest natural disasters in US history as damage was estimated at $13 - 50 billion and major roads were destroyed. Adding to this, the death toll stood at 57 people.

After the earthquake, a 6.0 magnitude aftershock came one minute later before another followed around 11 hours later.

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