Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Danger lurks below in Oregon (Cascadia Subduction Zone)
Statesman Journal ^ | September 15, 2005 | BETH CASPER

Posted on 09/16/2005 4:07:47 AM PDT by happinesswithoutpeace

Danger lurks below in Oregon

The state faces the likelihood of a major earthquake that would kill thousands and cause billions of dollars in damage -- and we're not ready for it.

A hurricane as destructive as Katrina striking Oregon is about as likely as a rain-free winter in the Northwest.

Oregon hasn't been hit by a hurricane even close to that powerful in recorded history.

But that doesn't mean the state is immune to disaster.

Scientists warn that the 800-mile-long earthquake fault off the state's coast will shake the ground as far east as the Cascades -- hard enough to obliterate thousands of buildings and severe enough to isolate communities for days or longer.

So could the result be as bad as the wake of Katrina?

Consider this: Hurricanes come with warnings. Earthquakes don't.

"You could walk faster than a hurricane progresses," said Yumei Wang, the geohazard section supervisor for the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries. "In an earthquake, you don't have that kind of warning. And with earthquakes, you have aftershocks that will plague people certainly for days afterwards. For a big earthquake, aftershocks may happen for a year."

In addition to a natural disaster that gives no inkling to its timing, Oregon has had a serious handicap in preparing for such an event: a lack of knowledge.

As late as 1983 -- 50 years after California passed legislation requiring all schools to be earthquake-resistant -- an Oregon geologist remarked on the state's good luck in not having to deal with earthquakes.

"We in the Northwest may have to live with volcanic eruptions but we hope that the (U.S. Geological) Survey's vulnerability map is correct and that we will not also have to look forward to large earthquakes as well," John Eliot Allen wrote in the Oregonian. Allen is a geologist who founded the geology department at Portland State University.

As it turned out, those maps were wrong.

It wasn't until 2000 that an international group of scientists released the first consensus paper on the likelihood, power and resulting damage from an earthquake in the Cascadia Subduction Zone, 32 to 70 miles off the coast of Oregon.

Oregon has had many moderate quakes, but the possibility of a great Cascadia quake is no small threat.

"It would be apocalypse," said Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem. "How can you evacuate when major roads and bridges are broken apart? The business economy is gone. That's how catastrophic it would be today."

Best estimates by experts predict that there will be a magnitude 9 earthquake in Cascadia -- one that, by definition, is off the scale and would cause more than tremendous damage. It would likely cause thousands of deaths and billions of dollars worth of damage across the state.

An earthquake that size would displace 5,500 households and inflict $2.5 billion in damage to buildings in Marion County alone, according to preliminary numbers from a soon-to-be-released state study.

"It has only been in the last 10 years that this fault's significance has been understood," said Jay Wilson, the earthquake, tsunami and volcano program coordinator for Oregon Emergency Management. "For the most part, Oregonians believe that Oregon doesn't have the kind of earthquake history that California or even Washington has."

And even though emergency workers and public servants are trained to deal with major disasters, anyone who knows anything about earthquakes uses one word to answer whether we, as a society, are prepared for an event we know is coming.


Quake hazard

Chris Goldfinger, an associate professor of marine geology at Oregon State University, along with other scientists, has extracted deep-sea sediment cores from the Cascadia zone that suggests a history of great earthquakes.

The Cascadia Subduction Zone is the place where the Juan de Fuca plate meets the North American plate. It runs from Vancouver Island to Northern California. The two plates constantly push against each other, and the heavier sea floor sinks below the other plate.

In a few minutes of violence, the forces can be released.

"In the case of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, you could have an area of ocean sea floor that's 50 miles wide and 500 to 600 miles long suddenly snap back up, causing a huge tsunami," Goldfinger, a leading expert on the fault zone, said earlier this year. "At the same time, we could expect some parts of the upper, or North American plate, to sink one to two meters. These are massive tectonic events. Subduction zones produce the most powerful earthquakes and tsunamis in the world."

Scientists think that in the past 10,000 years, 19 to 21 major earthquakes occurred in this zone. At least 17 of those shook the entire length of the zone, causing a magnitude 9 earthquake and resulting tsunamis.

Records show that the last big one occurred on Jan. 26, 1700, which sent a catastrophic tsunami to Japan.

Goldfinger's research suggests that the Cascadia zone experiences clusters of earthquakes. In the past 1,600 years, there have been four massive Cascadia quakes.

But the question is whether the cluster activity is done and the Northwest is entering a long quiet period, or whether there are one or two earthquakes left in this cluster.

"The Cascadia Subduction Zone has the longest recorded data about its earthquakes of any major fault in the world," said Goldfinger. "So we know quite a bit about the periodicity of this fault zone and what to expect. But the key point we don't know is whether the current cluster of earthquake activity is over yet, or does it have another event left in it."

The Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries estimates a 10 percent to 15 percent chance of a magnitude 9 Cascadia quake during the next 50 years.

The results of a quake that size still are being assessed.

Part of the difficulty is that Mother Nature's timing makes a difference; if the quake happens at night, more people are in their wood-frame homes, which fare well during shaking. A major earthquake during the day would hit while people are working and children are in school, typically in older multiple-story buildings that may not survive the quake.

A 1998 preliminary statewide assessment said that 5,000 Oregonians would die and buildings across the state would sustain $12 billion in damage.

"We knew those numbers were low," said Wang, "but we didn't know how low."

A study of six Willamette Valley counties expected to be released in November by the state geology department shows a much worse scenario.

In Marion and Polk counties alone, preliminary numbers show:

Close to 300 people would die.

27,000 buildings would have moderate to complete damage.

7,500 households would be displaced.

Building-related damage would be $3.1 billion.

4,720 would suffer minor to life-threatening injuries.

11 percent of Marion County's bridges would not be functional the day after the quake; Polk County would lose 18 percent of its bridges.

Highway damage would cost $11 million.

As many as 2,000 people would need shelter.

About 15 fires would start.

One million tons, or 40,000 truckloads, of debris would need to be removed in Marion County alone.

These estimates come from layering-maps that show soil types, landslide hazards, census data and building types, among other information. Officials note that the data is from statistical models that see general damage; nothing as specific as identifying particular earthquake-prone buildings on bad ground.

"The idea is to get all of this information together and then look at it from a weak-link-in-the-chain-of-preparedness perspective," said Bill Burns, an engineering geologist with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries. "If you look at how many people need shelter and then you look at potential shelters to see if they will, in fact, fail ... you can find the weak link and fix it."


Oregon, unfortunately, has many weak links, earthquake experts and officials say. All of them are exacerbated by the fact that scientists didn't learn about the earthquake hazards until relatively recently.

For example, the state's building codes didn't adequately address shaking from earthquakes until 1993, according to earthquake geologists and building code experts.

In 2001, Oregon legislators passed the first law to require schools buildings to be earthquake resistant. California did the same in 1933.

"Most of the buildings I have slated for shelters would probably -- if we had a major earthquake of 7 or so in the valley -- would probably not be there," said Jeff Kresner, the emergency services director for the Willamette Chapter of the American Red Cross. "We would probably have to start looking for shelters in buildings still left standing and that the city or county felt were safe enough for us to put a shelter in."

Comprehensive building-by-building surveys across the state to determine earthquake-readiness have not happened.

"We are building our current buildings in a very reasonable way," Wang said. "But we are not fixing the older buildings. We don't look back. And when we do look back, it's a big price tag, so society in general is not willing to pay for low-probability events with high consequences."

But the price tag afterward is equally staggering. Wang estimates $36 billion in damage just to buildings in Oregon after a magnitude 8.5 earthquake in the Cascadia zone.

"The state has not done what we need to do for our own state-owned buildings," she said. "We need to walk our talk."

Some local governments have looked at specific buildings, and Salem is ahead of the curve in earthquake preparedness, experts say.

“Salem is lucky because we don’t have any significant high rises,” said Tom Phillips, the building and safety administrator for the city. “Low-rise buildings seem to fair better. We seem to have lots of single- and two-story buildings, which all fare well. Most of the structures in the city are framed with wood, which seem resistant in the event of an earthquake. Older, steel buildings tend to fall apart quicker. Wood is flexible. Salem would probably fare very well, other than the downtown area.” In 1996, Salem assessed the earthquake safety of its fire stations. Engineers estimate that $1.2 million would be needed to bring these critical buildings up to appropriate seismic standards and to install backup power generators. Station 7 on Liberty and and Skyline roads would need to be replaced. The improvements have not been made yet. A bond measure to cover seismic upgrades and other maintenance is being considered for the 2006 ballot. “It’s pretty important that these improvements get made,” said Salem Deputy Fire Chief Joe Parrott. “If we have that earthquake scenario (Cascadia Zone magnitude 9), we know this community is going to be pretty devastated. We need emergency forces out to help folks, and if the (fire station) doors are jammed up or the roof collapses, it is going to delay our response.” Fire engines that are able to get out of stations aren’t much help, however, if they can’t travel the roads and bridges to neighborhoods, hospitals and schools. The Oregon Department of Transportation changed bridge designs in 1990 to account for subduction zone quakes. Despite changing designs so quickly after scientists sounded the warning, bridges throughout the state will be unpassable after a quake. The state maintains about 2,700 bridges — local governments maintain an additional 4,000 bridges — and since 1990, 400 bridges have been replaced or repaired with updated standards. About 25 bridges per year are upgraded, with a focus on major routes such as Interstate 5 and Highway 101. “The vast majority of bridges were built or repaired prior to 1990,” said Bruce Johnson, the transportation department’s bridge engineer. “Even though we are working as hard as we can to retrofit or replace bridges to make them seismically current, there are over 2,000 that were built before 1990.” It’s not just state buildings, emergency facilities and roadways that aren’t structurally prepared. It’s also Oregonians who might be driving those highways, working in those buildings and needing emergency services, experts say. “We don’t have catastrophic things happen like hurricanes or flooding every year,” said Kresner of the American Red Cross. “These things are few and far between, and people get complacent because of that. Not like in Georgia or Florida — those people realize that every June to December there is a possibility of a hurricane. That’s another part of the problem: People not taking the threat as seriously as it is.” Sylvia Matsel, 68, is no stranger to disasters. She lost her home to Hurricane Camille, one of the last great hurricanes to hit the southern United States. Camille killed 143 people and destroyed 6,000 homes. Matsel and her family evacuated just before the 200 mile-per-hour winds and 20-foot-high tides smashed Mississippi’s Gulf Coast in August 1969. When she returned to where her apartment had been, she could salvage just three things: a gold-and-jade bracelet, an aqua cooking pot and a baby book documenting details about her son, Jeffery. Everything else worth saving had washed away with the water. Although the threat of hurricanes in the South was real to her, the dangers from earthquakes in Oregon is just mildly worrying. “I know that I’ve never really heard much about preparing us for an earthquake,” she said. “I worked for the (Salem-Keizer) school district for 23 years, and we went under the tables for earthquake drills. But other than that, nothing. “Even here at home, I’ve thought about what would happen if there was an earthquake. What would I do?” she asked. “They tell you to stay away from windows, but what would happen to me? And I live here by myself and my little dog, and which room would be the best in an earthquake? I don’t know.” She’s not alone. Even people with experience in earthquakes don’t have a good understanding of what to do in the event of a quake in Oregon. Sonya Gaub, 58, lives on the second floor of the Lee Apartments in downtown Salem. She has lived through the shaking and waving of several quakes — the most recent here in Oregon. “I stood with (my dog) under the doorway, and I was watching everything wave,” Gaub said. “Everything looks like the picture is getting distorted. It’s a very strange feeling. You can feel the waving motion. You can see it. Even solid objects, like the refrigerator, wave. It’s a very strange feeling and it is very hard to think about what to do when it happens.” But she said there are easy ways for government to prepare people, like including emergency information in phone books, where even very poor people can access it. It’s the poor and other vulnerable populations that need help and information the most, experts say. “This happens over and over again in terms of class disparity — the working-class and the poor fall between the cracks when big disasters happen,” said Wilson, a state emergency planner. “The elderly, disabled, people who have mental disabilities, who are on public assistance and the poor. This can apply to recent immigrants who have English as a second language too — people in Mississippi (before Hurricane Katrina) who spoke Spanish didn’t evacuate because they didn’t have the language.” On the other hand, city, county and state officials, emergency planners and public employees train regularly to prepare for disasters, including earthquakes. “At (the Department of Transportation), we try to be as prepared as we can for any kind of hazard with transportation,” said Rose Gentry, statewide emergency operations manager for the agency. The entire state, led by Oregon Emergency Management, practiced response to the exact situation that scientists are most worried about: a magnitude 9 earthquake in the Cascadia Subduction Zone. “All of our (transportation) officers participated,” she said. “We activated our agency operation center and regional centers, simulated bridge damage and folks went out and reported on the damage. We had that information come in to Salem and made decisions on what to do. And we assisted local government on their transportation and local government issues.” Emergency workers say they want the state’s infrastructure and residents to be as well prepared as they are. Fleeting interest But the problem with addressing earthquake preparedness is two-fold: It’s expensive, and attention to the issue is fleeting. Big disasters, such as the recent southeast Asia quake and resulting tsunami, scare the public and officials enough for some talk about preparing for a big disaster. But legislators and officials have been hesitant to commit precious funds to an event that doesn’t have an exact date. “There was a little bit of talk about being prepared for earthquakes a few years ago (after the Scotts Mills quake in Marion County),” Gaub said. “About retrofitting buildings, things like that. They never did any of that, and once the aftershock of the earthquake wore off, there was no more mention.” Sen. Courtney said it has been frustrating. In past sessions, bills passed that required agencies to conduct seismic safety studies, but no money was set aside. During this year’s session, Courtney championed a bill that allotted $330,000 for the state geology department to assess the earthquake safety of schools, colleges, police stations, fire stations and hospitals throughout Oregon. “I have been screaming about this thing for three legislative sessions,” Courtney said. “The public deserves a lot of credit. On the November (2002) ballot with two measures, they said yes, we want at least $1 billion on retrofitting. But we haven’t even sold a single bond.” The Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries already has assessed large buildings on seven state university campuses. Some buildings, including residential halls at Portland State University and an administration building at the Oregon Institute of Technology, have already been retrofitted to withstand severe shaking. More funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency are being used to fix buildings at Oregon State University and Western Oregon University, where Courtney works as an instructor. But these are just baby steps, Courtney said. “We are nowhere near ready,” he said. “We are dangerously on the brink of tragedy in terms of deaths and loss of the Oregon economy. We can’t take a magnitude 9 hit today — we can’t take it at all.” or (503) 589-6994

TOPICS: Miscellaneous; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: cascadia; earthquake; episodic; expectedtremor; oregon; slip; slowearthquake; subductionzone; tremor; tremors
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first previous 1-2021-25 last
To: jimtorr; Salvation
Our home is at the far right mid page where it looks like the base of a mans skull. The orange is flood areas and we are on the curve just between the two flood zones which means roads to the rest of the world could easily wash out as it is an the old bay highway. We feel very confident that we could be self contained and more people are looking at their own situations here as it comes up in discussions. We even have an area for the Coast Guard Helicopter to land if evacuation was needed. Which would be a very last resort.
21 posted on 09/22/2005 11:26:11 AM PDT by oceanperch (I love my Labradors Kolbe, Porter, Hunter and Yol)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 7 | View Replies]

To: jimtorr; Salvation

THe second pic on link is the Bay Rd. that is about 20-25 ft. below our property.
The Home Tour

The second and third pic show the hill down to the Bay Rd. and the Bay Road itself in the third pic is the photo view of the curve on the earlier post of the man's skull chart of the bay.

The Yaquina Bay Hill Walk

22 posted on 09/22/2005 11:38:17 AM PDT by oceanperch (I love my Labradors Kolbe, Porter, Hunter and Yol)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 7 | View Replies]

To: happinesswithoutpeace

Ah this is merely Katrina envy.. $$billions$$ for the gulf coast but none for Oregon.. Liberalism is all about envy..

23 posted on 09/22/2005 11:53:50 AM PDT by hosepipe (This propaganda has been ok'ed by me to included some fully orbed hyperbole....)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Cold Heart

Cold Heart wrote:
"Self reliance taught in school instead of drama. Excellent idea! However, this is an article about Oregon, not going to happen in public schools. The drama teaching will come in handy when they show the victims on TV."

--Well said!

24 posted on 09/23/2005 2:02:33 AM PDT by 1FASTGLOCK45 (FreeRepublic: More fun than watching Dem'Rats drown like Turkeys in the rain! ! !)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 17 | View Replies]

To: happinesswithoutpeace

Why is it that every time I hear one of these disaster predictions, rather than being concerned over human suffering, I instead immediately begin calculating whether it means a bunch of liberals will die?

Do I have an "Anger Management Problem"... 'r'sumthin?

25 posted on 09/29/2005 9:24:44 PM PDT by fire_eye (Socialism is the opiate of academia.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first previous 1-2021-25 last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson