Scientists say Seattle’s overdue earthquake could happen within 50 years

Jul 13, 2015, 11:09 AM | Updated: Jul 14, 2015, 8:34 am
"An entire civilization" built on top of a zone ripe for destruction. (AP)

The Pacific Northwest won’t be the same after a devastating earthquake that scientists say has pretty good odds of happening in the next 50 years or less.

When the big one hits, FEMA projects almost 13,000 people will die in a major Cascadia earthquake and tsunami, Kathryn Schulz of The New Yorker writes.

Check the Northwest Earthquake Tracker

Schulz writes that a major quake could be on the horizon and could leave everything west of Interstate 5 “unrecognizable.” That includes areas of Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia, as well as portions of western Oregon; about 140,000 square miles and seven million people will be in harm’s way, Schulz writes. Along with the estimated deaths, there will be another 27,000 injuries.

“An entire civilization” has been built on top of an area ripe for destruction, based on data we didn’t have 50 years ago.

Though it’s difficult to argue against the data, are Northwesterners really in as much danger as someone writing for an East Coast publication makes it seem, or are the people of New York just irritated that the West Coast is a better place to live?

Yes, we know, it rains all the time in Seattle. Except for several months out of the year when the weather is perfect.

Highs of mid 80s with lows of 60, we’ll take that over near 90s or above. Of course, what better way to bring out the ripe smell of rotting garbage than blistering heat?

According to Schulz, the odds of a magnitude 8 to 8.6 quake hitting the West Coast is one in three. It’s less likely for an even bigger quake &#8212 magnitude 8.7 to 9.2. Those odds are one in 10.

The danger all stems from the Cascadia subduction zone, a 700-mile fault line that stretches from Vancouver Island down to Cape Mendocino, California. It’s a disaster waiting to happen that nobody knew existed less than 50 years ago.

If a magnitude 8.7 to 9.2 earthquake hits, the Northwest edge of the continental shelf will drop as much as six feet and then rebound 30 to 100 feet to the west. All the elevation gained will be lost within minutes, displacing an almost unfathomable amount of water that will go both east and west. A “liquid wall” will reach the coast in about 15 minutes.

It’s an almost too-likely scenario with the information now available. The amount of time that elapses between subduction earthquakes is 243 years, Schulz writes. Based on the quake of 1700, the area is now 350 years in its cycle &#8212 or 72 years past its due date.

Yet, with all this data being released about devastation, it hasn’t stopped people from flocking to Seattle to start new lives.

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Scientists say Seattle’s overdue earthquake could happen within 50 years