A couple of weeks ago, a story in the New Yorker called “The Really Big One” scared the pants off of everybody with its vivid descriptions of what could potentially happen to our area after “the big one” — an earthquake along the Cascadia subduction zone and the tsunami that will follow. The line that freaked people out the most had to be this quote from Kenneth Murphy, head of the FEMA division responsible for our part of the country: “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.” Yikes.
Well now the woman who wrote that story, Kathryn Schulz, has a follow up in the New Yorker that might help you relax just a little. “How to Stay Safe When the Big One Comes” gives us a few more details about what we might expect around here, and even though a major quake will definitely wreak havoc and cause major destruction, it’s not quite as bad as it sounded after reading the original story.
. . . “Toast” is not what you would call a precise description, so let me be more specific. What Murphy did not mean is that everyone west of I-5 will be injured or killed; FEMA’s casualty figures, while horrifying, amount to under one-half of one per cent of the population of the region. Nor did he mean that every structure west of the interstate will fail, although there the numbers are grimmer: region-wide, the agency expects to see seriously damaged or destroyed eighty-eight per cent of ports and potable water sources; seventy-seven per cent of fire stations and waste-water treatment plants; two-thirds of all airports, hospitals, railways, and schools; almost half of all highway bridges, police stations, and emergency command centers; plus almost three thousand miles of natural gas pipelines, seven hundred and forty-three electric power facilities, and nearly a million residential buildings.
There, doesn’t that make you feel better? A little bit, anyway?
The point of the follow-up story is that we do need to do what we can do to prepare. And we really already know what that involves: Bolt your house to its foundation, strap your water heater and tall shelves and cabinets to the wall, keep an up-to-date earthquake kit in your home, make a family plan (including picking a contact person outside the region to coordinate messages from your family when communications is damaged here), get to know your neighbors, and if you’re in a coastal tsunami zone, know how to get out fast. BTW, about tsunamis, the article also says:
Some readers wondered if Seattle is vulnerable to the tsunami because of its location on the Puget Sound; it is not. (That city and others could experience some seiches, mini-tsunamis in lakes and other inland bodies of water, but those would be just a few feet tall, at most—and they should be correspondingly low on the list of things to worry about.) Nor will other major cities along the I-5 corridor be directly affected by the tsunami.
So . . . we’re still at risk, but it probably won’t be as dire as the earlier article made it seem. Still . . . be prepared. And read the story.
And if you need more incentive to prepare, let’s revisit this video about what might happen to the viaduct and the Seattle waterfront in a major quake: