The Pacific Northwest Isn't Ready for This Tsunami

The evacuation options just aren't there for tens of thousands of people
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 13, 2022 3:00 PM CST
We Aren't Ready for the Water a Cascadia Wave Would Bring
   (Getty Images)

"It’s going to dwarf the scale of any disaster we have ever had. We know it’s coming." So Chris Goldfinger of Oregon State University tells the New York Times. He's talking about a massive—think magnitude 9.0—quake along the Cascadia fault off the Pacific Northwest coast. Based on 10,000 years of geologic evidence, we're due for that kind of quake within roughly the next century. And after the ground shakes, the water will come. The fault sits only about 70 miles offshore, and the tsunami that could result from it could hit within 15 minutes. As Mike Baker writes, "Along many stretches of the Northwest coast, there are no bluffs or high buildings to climb—nowhere to go." His story opens with a painful illustration of that fact.

At Washington's Ocean Shores Elementary School, students practice evacuating to the second floor after a quake. Except modeling shows the school could be hit with water 23 feet deep. The second floor is 13 feet above ground level (never mind that the school wasn't built to withstand a tsunami). In that state, modeling shows that of the 70,000 people who would be in the path of the tsunami triggered by a 9.0-magnitude quake, 32,000 of them wouldn't be able to reach high enough ground in 15 minutes. The state is considering building a series of vertical evacuation structures along the coast that would be accessible to 22,000 people. Only two exist so far in all of the Pacific Northwest, though the Shoalwater Bay Tribe in Tokeland, Wash., has broken ground on one—with pilings located 51 feet in the ground. (Read the full story for much more.)

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