The “Big One” shook the Pacific Northwest 317 years ago. We’re not prepared for its next shaking, and the consequences will be severe.
On this date 317 years ago, the “Big One” shook the Pacific Northwest. A magnitude 9 megaquake struck off the Pacific coast, splitting tideflats, collapsing hillsides and dropping shorelines by several feet.
Then the tsunami hit.
“Beaches where hundreds of thousands of tourists now fly kites and race three-wheelers on sunny days were swallowed by waves no man or beast could outrun. Uprooted trees became battering rams. Caught up in the icy water, people flailed desperately for anything to grab onto, anything to keep them afloat. Entire villages were swept away in a matter of moments,” wrote Seattle Times reporter Sandi Doughton in her book, “Full Rip 9.0: The Next Big Earthquake in the Pacific Northwest.”
Today, about 5.4 million people in Washington live in areas that would be endangered by a megaquake. FEMA projects 9,400 Washingtonians would die if a megaquake and tsunami struck.
Officials say the region is not prepared to deal with a crisis as severe as the “Big One.” Lawmakers have largely ignored the danger of unreinforced masonry buildings in an earthquake.
Washington — compared to its West Coast neighbors — does little to ensure schoolchildren’s safety in the event of a megaquake and tsunami. The cost of earthquake insurance has soared in Washington, and insurers have incredible power at the bargaining table.
SEISMIC NEGLECT | More from the series:
- Overview: Washington’s earthquake risks
- Lessons from Christchurch: 4 key ways Seattle can prepare for earthquake devastation
- Earthquake-insurance prices soar in Washington, and companies hold all the power
- Buildings that kill: The earthquake danger lawmakers have ignored for decades
- Is your child safe? Washington does little to protect older schools from earthquakes
- Guide to earthquake preparedness | Tips for parents | How to prepare your home | What to do when it hits
- About The Seattle Times’ special report