If you live in Seattle, you’ve probably read that New Yorker article about the probability of a cataclysmic earthquake striking the (ultra-sexy-sounding) Cascadian subduction zone and obliterating our corner of the Pacific Northwest. If you haven’t read it yet, I’ll wait. It took me until this morning to finally feel up to reading about my imminent death and I understand if you need a little bit of preparation time.
I remember when I was in grade school, someone – maybe a psychic, maybe a seismologist, I can’t recall – predicted a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault. This faultline runs through northeastern Arkansas, eastern Tennessee, and mostly southeastern Missouri. In 1811, the New Madrid earthquake hit and caused significant property damage in St. Louis and, it is rumored, rang church bells in Boston. And when you’re a kid in the late ‘80s, this is one of the most dangerous things you can image. I remember parents keeping their kids home from school on the day it was supposed to happen. And, being in the Midwest, we didn’t even know or need to be concerned about tsunamis.
“Four to six minutes after the dogs start barking, the shaking will subside. For another few minutes, the region, upended, will continue to fall apart on its own. Then the wave will arrive, and the real destruction will begin.”
See, it’s not just the earthquake that will do it; it’s the tsunami that will come afterwards. As the article notes, “Among natural disasters, tsunamis may be the closest to being completely unsurvivable.” Also, should the Cascadian subduction zone rupture, “It will not look like a Hokusai-style wave, rising up from the surface of the sea and breaking from above. It will look like the whole ocean, elevated, overtaking land.” You know all those natural disaster films you’ve seen where people sprint through the streets and scramble up the sides of mountains and somehow, the protagonist escapes danger? Nope. Not real. A tsunami is no joke. It is a behemoth wall of seawater moving under a volition more powerful than anything mankind has ever produced and it does not stop until it is fucking done. Or until it smacks into a fucking mountain range that is massive enough to traverse an entire continent.
Think that’s bleak? Read the fucking article. Paragraph after paragraph of doomsday prophecy, only in actual true scientific context. The official estimates of human life damage are over 27,000 injured and 13,000 dead from Northern California to Vancouver. The worst of the damage will occur west of Interstate 5. Hey guys, guess who lives west of Interstate 5? (Raises hand, waves it desperately!)
There is no solid timeframe for an event like this, but the odds of a big earthquake, between 8.0 and 8.6 on the Richter scale, is about one in three over the next 50 years. But the very big one, at anywhere between an 8.7 and 9.0, the one that will trigger the most horrifying, decimating, long-lasting damage, is estimated at one in ten. I have no idea where I will be in 50 years (honestly I kind of hope I’ll be dead because the thought of living to 83 is just impossible in my head). Likely I will already have been priced out of Seattle with the rest of the poors and the only ones here to withstand the very big one will be tech billionaires who we’ll all be a little bit happy to see disappear under the waves. But I might still be around, and let me tell you something, if I have to die, it might as well be in a version of the apocalypse.
As depressing and anxiety-inducing as the information is – or maybe it’s not, like maybe you don’t live here or care about anyone who does, or like maybe you just hate-read this blog for some complicated psychological reason and are actively rooting for my catastrophic demise and if that’s the case then I can’t say I blame you – it’s still very fascinating. In much the same way as it is fascinating to read about super droughts or the Yellowstone supervolcano. Or maybe I’m a freakshow who is just exhausted all the time and is therefore reasonably comfortable with the concept of her own death. I suppose I am a fatalist. I dunno.