A method of estimating the complete time-varying dynamic formation field from commonly available three-component single station seismic data has been developed and applied to study the relationship between dynamic deformation and ground failures and structural damage using observations from the 1994 Northridge, California earthquake. Estimates from throughout the epicentral region indicate that the horizontal strains exceed the vertical ones by more than a factor of two. The largest strains (exceeding ???100 ??strain) correlate with regions of greatest ground failure. There is a poor correlation between structural damage and peak strain amplitudes. The smallest strains, ???35 ??strain, are estimated in regions of no damage or ground failure. Estimates in the two regions with most severe and well mapped permanent deformation, Potrero Canyon and the Granada-Mission Hills regions, exhibit the largest strains; peak horizontal strains estimates in these regions equal ???139 and ???229 ??strain respectively. Of note, the dynamic principal strain axes have strikes consistent with the permanent failure features suggesting that, while gravity, sub-surface materials, and hydrologic conditions undoubtedly played fundamental roles in determining where and what types of failures occurred, the dynamic deformation field may have been favorably sized and oriented to initiate failure processes. These results support other studies that conclude that the permanent deformation resulted from ground shaking, rather than from static strains associated with primary or secondary faulting. They also suggest that such an analysis, either using data or theoretical calculations, may enable observations of paleo-ground failure to be used as quantitative constraints on the size and geometry of previous earthquakes. ?? 1997 Elsevier Science Limited.