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

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.