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Study says a devastating earthquake in the Northwest is inevitable

Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission says an earthquake like the one that caused the Japan tsunami is not only possible on the west coast, it's inevitable. (AP Photo/File)

A new study presents a grim outlook for the Pacific Northwest when the big one hits.

The study from the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission was presented to the Oregon legislature last Thursday. The commission said when an inevitable high magnitude earthquake hits, 10,000 people will die.

Commission member Jay Wilson told Seattle’s Morning News that while that sounds bad, it’s also the worst case scenario. And there is a lot we can do to prepare.

“Certainly the potential of this earthquake and tsunami is quite real,” said Wilson. “[The report] is really trying to raise the bar to understand not just how you characterize the damage with buildings and bridges being broken, but what those impacts would be from losing that.”

Sure, a 9-plus magnitude earthquake could destroy buildings and bridges, and those would need to be replaced, surely costing billions of dollars. But what would really cripple the cities and towns in outlying areas is the services impacted by those broken buildings and roads.

Without the services we would wait for electricity or running water.

Wilson said their report tries to look at a long term strategy for handling a detrimental seismic event. Looking 50 years out, Wilson recommended an improvement to infrastructure as we build it now.

“Those incremental investments really aren’t that big – but the pay off is that we don’t lose these services and capacity after the earthquake happens.”

After the Japan earthquake and tsunami, Wilson traveled to survey the damage. He arrived in Tokyo just three months after the massive earthquake, but he wouldn’t have known it just stepping off the plane.

Within two to four weeks, they had most of their services up and operating again, he said. But when Wilson traveled to the areas hit by the tsunami, things were far more dire.

That’s what one of the commission’s concerns is, getting services fully operational to those tsunami zones as well. That’s part of the reason why they’re looking at a 50 year time frame to incrementally improve.

Meanwhile, Wilson encouraged families, within their households or at work, to at least improve their sense of readiness with emergency kits and plans.

“As communities and cities, one thing we can start doing, even if we can’t afford the investments, is we can start planning on how we’re going to recover for this inevitable situation.”

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Study makes chilling forecast about quake, tsunami

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