Vv Magazine’s West Coast editor Alex Gill faces the possibility of a massive earthquake hitting, well, the West Coast.
For the last week, I’ve been cowering under my covers, trying to deny the fact that I live in the Pacific Northwest – a ticking time bomb that could be swallowed up by the earth and washed out to sea ANY MINUTE NOW.
Yes, I read that terrifying New Yorker article – The Really Big One, by Kathryn Schulz — and now I’m scared shitless.
We are standing in the eye of an impending storm that will someday erupt as the worst natural disaster in the history of North America.
This isn’t new news. The Globe and Mail, The Canadian Press and the CBC have all reported on the Cascadia subduction zone, a rumbling hellmouth of continental mantle and oceanic crust that runs hundreds of miles between Northern California and Vancouver.
Most people who live here already know, even if it’s buried with all the other boogeymen deep in their subconscious, that there are two huge tectonic plates right under our feet headed on a massive collision course. They’re jamming up against each other and one day, perhaps very soon, will burst at the seams, unzip the earth in a massive “megathrust” earthquake, trigger the mother of all tsunamis and wipe out most of the West Coast.
We tacitly accept that we are basically living each day with horseshoes firmly wedged up our asses because the BIG ONE is now overdue by 70-odd years.
Yet we usually just ignore the dire inevitability of a colossal double disaster and get on with our daily routines: blissfully doing sun salutations into the serene ocean and mountain vistas; living in the power of the now, not the what-if. (No wonder Eckhart Tolle has become a modern-day messiah in these parts.)
Then along came that pesky New Yorker reporter. In one fell feature article, she totally ruined the buzz.
It wasn’t what Schulz wrote; it was the way she wrote it – with such vivid, horrifying clarity – that sent shockwaves through the Twittersphere. Here are some choice quotes from the article:
— “The odds of the big Cascadia earthquake happening in the next fifty years are roughly one in three. The odds of the very big one are roughly one in ten.”
— “The Pacific Northwest has no early-warning system. When the Cascadia earthquake begins, there will be, instead, a cacophony of barking dogs and a long, suspended, what-was-that moment before the surface waves arrive.”
— “Soon after that shaking begins, the electrical grid will fail, likely everywhere west of the Cascades and possibly well beyond…. that nonchalance will shatter instantly. So will everything made of glass. Anything indoors and unsecured will lurch across the floor or come crashing down: bookshelves, lamps, computers, cannisters of flour in the pantry. Refrigerators will walk out of kitchens, unplugging themselves and toppling over. Water heaters will fall and smash interior gas lines. Houses that are not bolted to their foundations will slide off—or, rather, they will stay put, obeying inertia, while the foundations, together with the rest of the Northwest, jolt westward. Unmoored on the undulating ground, the homes will begin to collapse.”
— “The northwest edge of the continent, from California to Canada and the continental shelf to the Cascades, will drop by as much as six feet and rebound thirty to a hundred feet to the west—losing, within minutes, all the elevation and compression it has gained over centuries. . .
— “The water will surge upward into a huge hill, then promptly collapse. One side will rush west, toward Japan. The other side will rush east, in a seven-hundred-mile liquid wall that will reach the Northwest coast, on average, fifteen minutes after the earthquake begins.”
— “Everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.”
— “Nearly thirteen thousand people will die… another twenty-seven thousand will be injured… one million will be homeless in North America’s worst-ever natural disaster.”
That muffled, mewling sound you hear is me hiding in my blanket cave. I poked my head out long enough to see what people on Facebook were saying:
“Oh, god. Did you read that article in the New Yorker too? The one about the earthquake wiping us all, like totally, out?”
“The upside? You could wind up with beachfront property.”
“Might as well go ahead with those renovations we can’t afford. If the big one comes, we won’t have to worry about paying it off.”
“I am in a very dark tunnel researching ‘go bags’. ”
“My survival plan involves the entire island sinking so, well, preparedness becomes a moot point.”
I finally emerged from under the covers when it dawned on me that the three large bookshelves next to my bed aren’t secured to the wall. I could be trampled to death by Ikea particleboard and 1,000 paperbacks.
Like any normal neurotic, I dove into the research on emergency preparedness. The New Yorker article was rather US-centric. What about Canada? Tofino and most of Vancouver Island may be lost causes. But what does this mean for Vancouver? Will there be any chance of escape?
Even if we’re spared the worst of the really big one, Vancouver can expect several smaller, but potentially even more damaging earthquakes in the Strait of Georgia or under the Coast Mountains.
Yeah, those same mountains that I can see from living room window.
To help us prepare, The City of Vancouver has created a very scary video. In the digital enactment, dark skies hover over the city as skyscrapers shatter, fires erupt and thousands of people are trapped in the rubble.
Thanks, Mayor Robertson. Aren’t you a f*cking ray of sunshine.
I found plenty more or less useless information about making an emergency plan and preparing a grab-and-go kit. But the bottomline? The Northwest remains woefully unprepared.
So excuse me while I crawl back under the covers with my flashlight, first-aid kit, bottled water and canned tuna. I feel much safer now that I’m sleeping next to an interior wall under the dining room table.
Are you worried about the possibility of a major West Coast earthquake? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below, or tweet us @ViewtheVibe.