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‘Everything west of I-5 will be toast’? Local experts react to article depicting huge quake in Northwest

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SEATTLE -- Those living in the Northwest know the next big earthquake could happen at any time. However, an article in the New Yorker takes that threat a step further, detailing what will happen when it does hit.

Experts say older buildings and structures in Seattle, like the Alaska Way Viaduct,  would be most vulnerable during an earthquake, but they don’t believe the devastation is going to be like anything depicted in the movies.

The New Yorker article discusses the possibility of a major earthquake and its impact, quoting FEMA’s regional director, Kenneth Murphy, as saying, “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.”

John Vidale is the state's seismologist, and he has his own idea of what that means.

“The article had a lot of good information in it and there is a lot of real risk and a lot of preparation we need to do, but it was a little 'Hollywood' because it made it seem like it was going to be burning rubble if we had an earthquake,” said Vidale.

“The idea that the entire West Coast is going to be toast is kind of more a long-term economic reality. Some of the older buildings and some of the freeways might have problems; they might even come down, but mostly people are going to be isolated from their source -- so food and water and power.”

He said there is a one in 300 chance a year that a major earthquake will hit the Pacific Northwest.

Lynne Miller, with the King County Office of Emergency Management, said her agency is working with others to prepare for a potential earthquake. She even carries an emergency kit, stocked with extra food, water, blankets, clothes, flashlights, and a handheld radio among other items, in her own car.

“When we prepare, it doesn’t have to be as scary when it happens,” said Miller.

It’s why she believes the article shouldn’t have sparked fear but a reminder for people to equip themselves.

“People will survive, I’d like to hope everyone will survive, but to get there it’s going to take all of us doing our part to be informed and prepare,” said Miller.

Miller suggests families should start discussing emergency kits to be used in their cars and homes, a communication plan, an effort to get to know their neighbors, and identifying how they will receive information -- whether by signing up for text alerts or getting a handheld radio.

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46 comments

    • Mike Lasnier

      Evelyn, it’s not just a possibility; it’s going to happen. It’s happened many, many times before, the last time in 1700. We are now “in the window” for it to occur again. I could happen today, or in 200 years; seismic events don’t keep a precise schedule. Just be ready for it, and you’ll be ready for anything.

    • Somethingwicked

      Evelyn, read the entire article the New Yorker published. Depending on where you live and how big the earthquake is will depend on how badly you are hit. For some, there won’t be any way to get safe. My sister lives on the beach in Seaside. She says she’ll just grab her boogie board and meet her fate because there’s no way for her to get to higher ground. There isn’t anything high enough. I’m glad I live on the east side of the mountains…but I visit the west side often, so I have nothing to gloat about. Make our peace with God as we understand Him/Her/It and that’s about it. Of course, storing food and water couldn’t hurt either, in case you’re “only” hit with massive buildings crumbling and power supply cut offs. ..

      • Hannah Jin

        Yes, you’re right it’s the best to be at peace with God no matter what happens. Check out the website needgod.com to see if you are.

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  • Karly

    The response by these “local experts” seems ill prepared and ignorant, especially in comparison to the material presented by the New Yorker article’s author. A serious reevaluation of the region’s emergency preparedness and response measure would inspire a lot more confidence.

    • Gibby

      ^^This is how I feel. One of the takeaways I got from the New Yorker article & this article is our Northwest government should be taking more steps to prepare for these massive quakes (e.g. an early warning system; more stringent building regulations; etc)

        • Adrian

          I live on the Oregon coast and trust me schools are preparing kids for this earthquake and tsunami aftermath. I remember we have a certain amount of earthquake drills that we have to do several times a month. Just wanted to post this so people know that our schools are educating us on this issue.

          • Cheryl

            Good idea to do the drills as you never know when this will hit. Hopefully for not a long time. Eastern WA has said they will be ready to help if it does. We get quakes there too but is not as dangerous as the west side. We all have to stick together. I hope Oregon does the same. There does seem to be a lot of activity lately so best to be aware. I read about the one in 1700 and it was a whopper.

  • Jispher Askine

    Live your life to it’s fullest an let your friends and family know you love them, because it can all be over in a blink of an eye.

  • Andrea Karim

    The idea that everything west of I-5 would “be toast” is not in reference to the quake – it’s in reference to the subsequent tsunami. You’re misrepresenting what the original article was talking about.

    • Dina

      Except due to the geology of the region, it’s not like we’re going to have a massive tsunami in the Puget Sound. The Strait of Juan de Fuca will have a protective effect. Now, the Pacific coast? That’s a different story.

  • Kevin Lee

    I think “everything west of I-5 will be toast” is a bit of an exaggeration. There is plenty of high ground along the coast from northern California to Canada, not the least being the Olympic Peninsula and Vancouver Island. Most of this area won’t subside enough to “fall into the ocean”, and would be above the reaches of a tsunami. As long as you’re not in an unreinforced masonry building you have a good chance of surviving the initial quake. Then you just have to be prepared for days, weeks, or months without utilities or support services.

    • Sue Lani W. Madsen

      Are you losing sleep over climate change impacts? The time window is much longer, the damage predictions much less precise. We’d be a lot better off focusing on building a resilient society where being without utilities for as little as a week or two causes panic.

      • Sue Lani W. Madsen

        (Let me rephrase that with the negative in the correct place.) We’d be better off building a resilient society where being without utilities for as little as a week or two does NOT cause panic.

  • SvenTheBold

    Just thinking aloud; but since we know there will be people who can’t evacuate, would it be possible to create a tsunami shelter underground?

    There’s a long history of subway tunnels withstanding extremely powerful earthquakes; my understanding is that earthquake damage to buildings comes when the bottom moves with the earth, but the top doesn’t: a building with no top doesn’t have that problem. Creating an air pocket wouldn’t be that difficult design-wise, and placing it underground would avoid damage from debris being swept across the earth.

    Put some compressed oxygen tanks in there, maybe some backup batteries, and as long as the people inside it survive long enough for the national guard to rescue them, an underground ark like that could save many lives.

    • Angela

      Theoretically it may not be difficult. However, you don’t know how many people to prepare for and there may be so much debris on top of this “bunker” after that it might be nearly impossible to get to the survivors in time before they run out of supplies or air. You would have to have a air tight system in which nothing can pass through it because the water and debris will destroy any ventilation shaft that you construct. And, you never know just how far down the ground will solidify making the bunker fall down into the earth and allowing it to be pushed from its expected position. Once everything happens you cannot rely on GPS or satalite radios because theyay not even be close enough to reach. There is a short time that people can live without air and clean water and the more and more people you add to the equation the less likely it is to find anyone alive. I guess if need be for food the survivors can eat the dead if it meant living to see daylight but that would scar anyone for life. However, anything is circumstantial.

  • Angela

    Everything in our lives is on a timer and we do not control that timer. However, it does us no good to dwell on the timers we cannot control or we will live a short miserable life dwelling on what we cannot change.

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  • Lisa

    Evidently we’re overdue. But I think it’s a little overblown if you ask me. They make it sound like it would be worse than it was in 1700 AD, but why would that be? That doesn’t make sense.

  • will

    everybody deserve a freedom. your government take mine away. I told you to leave me alone and your law enforcement keep trying to get me by force and hurt me . know the derfreant between me and Jesus. I am the son of God the creator and I don’t deserve to get hurt. I hope this will give me my freedom back. I’m a peaceful citizen no harm or dangerous to anyone. I’m fill with love. my father in the kingdom will always served justice in my pain. please I’m asking to leave me alone and let me help you to repeal this contrary under God the creator and he will bless us with glory …. y’all know who I am… I deserve a good life and so as the Washington state citizens too God bless and much love…

  • peter1589

    What’s really at risk is our nuclear deterrent in our Trident force. Obama will probably want to call them all to home base to be sure there’s no viable resistance left for his Muslim invasion.

  • Mauricio

    Guys, I recommend watching National Geographic’s Planet Earth. 3 part series, incredibly eye opening and scientific. I mean, it’s going to happen. When, that’s impossible to predict. But this planet doesn’t care about any of our minuscule lives. Just be prepared. God I love the West Coast. Would hate to see this happen in my lifetime.

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