Friday, June 21, 2013

When BC is hit by the M9.0 Earthquake

In BC we need to think about the "Big One".   The Cascadia subduction zone will eventually unleash a huge earthquake off of the coast of Vancouver Island, Washington and Oregon.   It will likely be one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded in human history.  As time goes by it is becoming clear it is much more likely to happen than people have ever thought possible.  The current estimate is a 37% chance of a M8.2+ within the next 50 years and 15% chance that it will be M9.0+.   The last time this subduction zone had a major earthquake was on January 26th 1700 and the average time between such earthquakes is about 580 years with the shortest time being less than 300 years.

What would a major earthquake mean for BC?
To get idea of the impact we should look at the following:
What should we expect?

  • Damage to most of the public infrastructure in BC - this means major damage to the grid, roads, bridges, and hospitals.   YVR is unlikely to be in operation.   The ferry terminals will be out of commission.  Power will be out for weeks if not longer. 
  • The complete destruction of the core of Victoria - think of something along the lines of a bombed out world war two German city.
  • Complete destruction from a tsunami of all the communities on the west coast of Vancouver Island
  • Global attention on Seattle, Vancover and Portland meaning all the other impacted areas will be forgotten
  • No help for at least a week locally or from outside

The cost to BC public and private infrastructure will be on the order of $500,000,000,000 to $1,500,000,000,000.   If you doubt that, the cost of the Christchurch earthquake will cost New Zealand about $40,000,000,000 and that is only for one city of the same size as Victoria.

It is hard to know how many deaths there will, but given the experience of Japan and New Zealand, we are going to see deaths, likely a few hundred.   Some of those deaths will happen because we have not done what we need to to prepare.

We are not close to ready for this coming major earthquake.   We are better off than only a few years ago but still a long way off from where we should be.   Emergency Management BC has done good work in getting people to pay attention but our local governments are responsible for emergencies.    Our local governments are not well coordinated with each other which will lead to problems when the earthquake happens.

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