LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Nearly 20 years after an earthquake devastated Northridge, a new study released by Caltech and the U.S. Geological Survey says that steel-frame structures in Southern California remain vulnerable to seismic ground motions.

Scientists used computer models of buildings to show what would happen during moderate, strong and very strong seismic ground motions.

During very strong motions, buildings with fracture-prone welds were more likely to collapse and sustain irreparable damage compared to structures with sound welds.

“We’re not saying that every building constructed before 1994 is going to collapse in an earthquake,” said Tom Heaton, director of Caltech’s Earthquake Engineering Research Lab. “We’re saying that buildings continue to be in use that pose a greater risk of physical injury and financial harm than is necessary.”

On Jan. 17, 1994, the Northridge quake left 57 dead, thousands hurt and caused more than $20 billion in damage.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)


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