This Is The Quake That Will Raze The Pacific Northwest

by Owen James Burke


 . . . And It Won’t Be from The San Andreas Fault. “This is one time that I’m hoping all the science is wrong, and it won’t happen for another thousand years” – Kenneth Murphy, director of FEMA’s Region X (the USA’s Northwest). Illustration by Christoph Niemann for The New Yorker; Map by ziggymaj/Getty.

Discourse about earthquakes includes discussion about ‘the big one’, but when “the really big one” comes, The New Yorker reports, 13,000 people will die and 27,000 more will be injured between Mendocino, California, Vancouver Island, Canada, and everywhere else west of Interstate 5, according to FEMA.

The more buoyant North American Plate will grind over the denser Juan de Fuca Plate at the Cascadia subduction zone, and it could mean the end of Seattle, Portland and other low-lying cities along the Pacific northwest of North America. The magnitude is expected to be over 9.0 on the richter scale, some 20 times more powerful than the Loma Prieta/San Andreas quake in 1989, which killed 63 people and cost billions of USD in damages.

The volcanic Cascadia Mountain Range, which lies on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula and has this subduction zone to thank for its existence, could crumble and tumble into the sea, and the iconic landscape of the region will be altered beyond recognition.

It won’t be the first time. Japan has been keeping track of earthquakes since 599 A.D., and in a 1996 issue of Nature, scientists described a 9.0 magnitude earthquake which, they believe, struck the Pacific Northwest of the US with a 600-mile-long wave. Thousands of miles away in Japan, not a tremor was felt. 10 hours later, it reached Japan, but for nearly 300 years, no one knew why, or where it had come from.

In the 1960s, Native Americans came forward and recounted oral histories passed on by their distant ancestors, telling of a bay draining dry and then an inundation of water which spared only a few lives. Those survivors later found canoes stuck in treetops.

Between Japanese and American records, there have been 41 major subduction zone earthquakes throughout a 1,400 year history. Divide that into 1,400 and you end up with 243–that’s one major event every 243 years on average. The region, which now has roughly 7 million people, is currently 315 years past the last catastrophic quake.

The long and the short of it is, we’re overdue and the odds are mounting. Read more at The New Yorker. -OJB

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