Earthquakes and tsunamis

posted by Jeff | Sunday, March 13, 2011, 8:59 PM | comments: 0

I've been having a hard time wrapping my head around what went down in Japan. The earthquake destruction by itself isn't nearly as disturbing as the tsunami waves taking out coastal towns. They keep saying on the news that there isn't a place in the world as prepared for earthquakes, and certainly when you compare it to the destruction in Haiti, you can see how that's true. The scope of the human tragedy is still terrible to think about.

It's not surprising that I've been thinking about what would happen if we were to experience a major quake, now that we live in a place where it's certainly possible. There are fault lines running all over the Puget Sound region, and a huge line that runs off-shore in the Pacific from BC down to California. That big one could produce a quake similar to the one in Japan, and likely generate a tsunami that would take out a lot of coastal towns. The big cities, Vancouver, Seattle and Portland, are fortunately all inland, so the quake is a bigger concern than waves for the biggest population centers. There are a couple of inland quakes that could produce small tsunamis in the Puget Sound, and those would likely blast the Seattle waterfront and some of the near-sea level areas on the islands.

To me, the scarier possibility is around the volcanos. If Mt. Rainier ever decided to become active, it's game over for much of the south sound. It's not the lava and ash you have to worry about, it's the lahars, which are giant mudflows with the consistency of concrete. Apparently the likely flow, made worse by all of the glaciers on the mountain, would slide its way down toward the southern tip of Lake Washington and Puget Sound west of there. It would effectively cut off much of the population from going anywhere south, and take out SEATAC.

Fortunately, I work in relatively modern buildings, higher than 100 feet above sea level, and I live even higher than that. I assume that housing construction is meant to survive an earthquake, but I don't know if "survive" means "inhabitable" afterward. A major natural disaster here would probably make a lot of things pretty miserable for awhile, particularly if it disrupts any of the major infrastructure, especially the bridges in and out of Seattle.

So when you think the snow is inconvenient in the Midwest, or that the highly unlikely hit of a tornado is scary, I think you've got it easy, as far as natural disasters go.


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