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What if Alaska’s earthquake happened here?

Published on December 7, 2018

A vehicle heavily damaged during the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake
Seattle, WA, March 4, 2001 -- A large van was crushed by earthquake debris in a Seattle parking lot. FEMA News Photo by Kevin Galvin Image Credit: Kevin Galvin, FEMA News Photo Library

Last Friday, a 7.0 earthquake rattled Anchorage, Alaska. Amazingly, no one died — and revamped building codes enacted in the wake of the state’s deadly 1964 Good Friday quake meant the city was more prepared than most. Outside of a few structure fires, damage was kept to a minimum.

But striking images of tectonic apocalypse filled the news just the same: offices avalanched with fallen papers; grocery stores cluttered with spilled merchandise; roads cracked and uplifted like broken icing on a birthday cake, complete with cars stranded on cracked chunks like toys.

In his capacity as the director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN) and as a professor at the University of Washington Department of Earth and Space Sciences, earthquakes are Harold Tobin’s profession. But he took the news personally.

“The first I heard was when I got a text from my sister who lives in Anchorage that just said, ‘EARTHQUAKE,” he says. “I’m like,  ‘Where are you?’ and she says, ‘I’m underneath my desk at work.’ So she felt it pretty strongly.”

Thanks to the long aftershocks of “The Really Big One,” many Seattleites’ second thought might’ve been imagining those crumbled roads mapped to the Queen Anne counterbalance or picturing their own cars suspended on a teetering section of the Aurora Bridge.

Don’t panic just yet. The PNSN has over 330 sensors permanently installed throughout Washington and Oregon, inside buildings and on mountaintops (the highest is at Mount Rainier’s Camp Muir). They have plans to deploy about 200 more in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey to help develop the ShakeAlert early warning system, currently in pilot phase.

Tobin talked with Crosscut to put the Anchorage earthquake into context, gently speculate what a similar quake would do to our fair city and explain why he can — and most folks in the Pacific Northwest should — sleep well at night.

Continue reading at Crosscut

Originally posted on Crosscut by Ted Alvarez
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