Christchurch in Seattle?


Christina Reed of Discovery News has written an analysis of the Christchurch, New Zealand earthquake that Pacific Northwesterners should pay attention to.

Reed is right to point out that a similar event, or worse, could happen in our area because of the soft soils our region sits on. I had that very thought when the Christchurch quake happened. The geology is similar.

This is why I don’t understand why the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle is being replaced with a tunnel. The waterfront area is a liquefaction zone, meaning that the soil could literally liquefy in a quake. I’ve never been sure why we Washingtonians build infrastructure in high risk areas.

It was ten years ago Monday that we experienced the 6.8 Nisqually quake, commonly referred to as the Ash Wednesday Earthquake. I remember how the government building I worked in began to flex as it was built to do– but it was, ironically, built on a liquefaction zone. I hid under the bomb proof front counter with two other people, hanging on as seconds seemed to stretch into minutes.

When one coworker panicked and ran for the door, an erroneous pack mentality took over and everyone else followed. That is a dangerous thing to do given that things could be falling or the building could collapse.

Outside, people got on their cell phones to check on their loved ones, not understanding that they were tying up the phone lines, including some land lines, for those with true emergencies. Despite all of our earthquake drills, some people stood within the collapse zone of the building without regard for aftershocks.

A decade later, I’m not sure that we’re significantly more prepared for a major quake now than we were then. In a state with five active volcanoes and huge fault lines running under its most populous cities, it’s odd that there’s not more local coverage of the Christchurch quake as an example of what could happen here.

Below is some more information about our region’s earthquake risk. If you haven’t seen the Cascadia movie on PBS, you might want to check it out at the library. It is a serious dose of reality.

Given the other earthquakes that have occurred in the Pacific Rim in recent years, I’m actually surprised that we haven’t had a major quake yet. I don’t want there to be any, but I’ve been watching the earthquake maps with suspicion.

There’s no sense in being paranoid of the inevitable major quakes that will strike our area in time, but it pays to be prepared. Knowing what we could face can help us, our people, and our pets survive when the time comes.

Cascadia: The Hidden Fire trailer:

Pacific NW Earthquake Hazards (USGS):

Interactive earthquake maps:

©2011 H. Hiatt/ All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/

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