Kathryn Schultz has a must-read piece in the New Yorker here on seismology findings warning the U.S. Pacific Northwest is headed for a catastrophic earthquake in its' future that will far outweigh anything in California. Seismologists expect it to be the "worst natural disaster in the history of North America".
At approximately nine o’ clock at night on January 26, 1700, a magnitude-9.0 earthquake struck the Pacific Northwest, causing sudden land subsidence, drowning coastal forests, and, out in the ocean, lifting up a wave half the length of a continent. It took roughly fifteen minutes for the Eastern half of that wave to strike the Northwest coast. It took ten hours for the other half to cross the ocean. It reached Japan on January 27, 1700: by the local calendar, the eighth day of the twelfth month of the twelfth year of Genroku.
...... we now know that the Pacific Northwest has experienced forty-one subduction-zone earthquakes in the past ten thousand years. If you divide ten thousand by forty-one, you get two hundred and forty-three, which is Cascadia’s recurrence interval: the average amount of time that elapses between earthquakes. That timespan is dangerous both because it is too long—long enough for us to unwittingly build an entire civilization on top of our continent’s worst fault line—and because it is not long enough. Counting from the earthquake of 1700, we are now three hundred and fifteen years into a two-hundred-and-forty-three-year cycle.
.... “The science part is fun,” Goldfinger says. “And I love doing it. But the gap between what we know and what we should do about it is getting bigger and bigger, and the action really needs to turn to responding. Otherwise, we’re going to be hammered. I’ve been through one of these massive earthquakes in the most seismically prepared nation on earth. If that was Portland”—Goldfinger finished the sentence with a shake of his head before he finished it with words. “Let’s just say I would rather not be here.”
The first sign that the Cascadia earthquake has begun will be a compressional wave, radiating outward from the fault line. Compressional waves are fast-moving, high-frequency waves, audible to dogs and certain other animals but experienced by humans only as a sudden jolt. They are not very harmful, but they are potentially very useful, since they travel fast enough to be detected by sensors thirty to ninety seconds ahead of other seismic waves. That is enough time for earthquake early-warning systems, such as those in use throughout Japan, to automatically perform a variety of lifesaving functions: shutting down railways and power plants, opening elevators and firehouse doors, alerting hospitals to halt surgeries, and triggering alarms so that the general public can take cover. The Pacific Northwest has no early-warning system. When the Cascadia earthquake begins, there will be, instead, a cacophony of barking dogs and a long, suspended, what-was-that moment before the surface waves arrive. Surface waves are slower, lower-frequency waves that move the ground both up and down and side to side: the shaking, starting in earnest.
[Note: I've experienced two major earthquakes: a 6.8 that hit at 4:00 in the morning and a 7.1 that struck in early afternoon. I remember all the dogs in the neighborhood started barking just before the 7.1 quake hit.]
..... Four to six minutes after the dogs start barking, the shaking will subside. For another few minutes, the region, upended, will continue to fall apart on its own. Then the wave will arrive, and the real destruction will begin.
Among natural disasters, tsunamis may be the closest to being completely unsurvivable. The only likely way to outlive one is not to be there when it happens: to steer clear of the vulnerable area in the first place, or get yourself to high ground as fast as possible.
..... “When that tsunami is coming, you run,” Jay Wilson, the chair of the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission (OSSPAC), says. “You protect yourself, you don’t turn around, you don’t go back to save anybody. You run for your life.”
[Reminds me of Lot and his family on their escape from Sodom.]
.... lax safety policies guarantee that many people inside the inundation zone will not get out. Twenty-two per cent of Oregon’s coastal population is sixty-five or older. Twenty-nine per cent of the state’s population is disabled, and that figure rises in many coastal counties. “We can’t save them,” Kevin Cupples says. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it and say, ‘Oh, yeah, we’ll go around and check on the elderly.’ No. We won’t.” Nor will anyone save the tourists. Washington State Park properties within the inundation zone see an average of seventeen thousand and twenty-nine guests a day. Madin estimates that up to a hundred and fifty thousand people visit Oregon’s beaches on summer weekends. “Most of them won’t have a clue as to how to evacuate,” he says. “And the beaches are the hardest place to evacuate from.”
Those who cannot get out of the inundation zone under their own power will quickly be overtaken by a greater one. A grown man is knocked over by ankle-deep water moving at 6.7 miles an hour. The tsunami will be moving more than twice that fast when it arrives. Its height will vary with the contours of the coast, from twenty feet to more than a hundred feet. It will not look like a Hokusai-style wave, rising up from the surface of the sea and breaking from above. It will look like the whole ocean, elevated, overtaking land. Nor will it be made only of water—not once it reaches the shore. It will be a five-story deluge of pickup trucks and doorframes and cinder blocks and fishing boats and utility poles and everything else that once constituted the coastal towns of the Pacific Northwest.
To see the full scale of the devastation when that tsunami recedes, you would need to be in the international space station.
..... it will take between one and three months after the earthquake to restore electricity, a month to a year to restore drinking water and sewer service, six months to a year to restore major highways, and eighteen months to restore health-care facilities. On the coast, those numbers go up. Whoever chooses or has no choice but to stay there will spend three to six months without electricity, one to three years without drinking water and sewage systems, and three or more years without hospitals. Those estimates do not apply to the tsunami-inundation zone, which will remain all but uninhabitable for years.
.... As those movies attest, we excel at imagining future scenarios, including awful ones. But such apocalyptic visions are a form of escapism, not a moral summons
The reference to a "moral summons" is spot-on. After the devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean on Dec 26, 2004 that killed more than 250,000, John Piper wrote an penetrating analysis here that correctly highlighted the true message of the catastrophe for the survivors and the rest of the world - repentance.
From pulpits to news programs, from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal, the message of the tsunami was missed .... Every deadly calamity is a merciful call from God for the living to repent.
Whether or not a massive earthquake is coming soon in the Pacific Northwest, one thing is crystal clear - the warning of Dec 26, 2004 was not heeded by a culture largely gone mad speeding towards judgement.