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Prepare: One day the Big One will come

A citizen’s view

On Oct. 19 at 9 a.m. 800,000 or so folks in Washington will take part in the Great Shakeout drill to practice the steps necessary to effectively respond to a major earthquake. Unlike floods and maybe wild fires, there is no way science has discovered to prevent earthquakes. There are rumors that Italian scientists are experimenting with warning signs of oncoming earthquakes, but so far the warnings are limited to Italian earthquakes and they can’t warn more than a few minutes before the shaking starts.

The only available option in Washington, the second most seismically active state in the U.S. after California, is to prepare for survival and recovery from whatever destruction a quake might cause.

La Conner sits atop one of the largest earthquake faults on the planet, where the bottom of the Pacific Ocean scratches beneath the North American continent. Scientists, not too long ago, thought this fault was shallow and not likely to produce a major earthquake. Then a vacationing geologist discovered records in a temple journal of a tsunami striking Japan in January 1700 and linked that event to previously unexplained mud rings on Washington coastal cedar trees and Native stories of tidal flooding. Mud cores taken from the continental shelf have subsequently pointed to at least five earlier giant earthquakes. Now, according to a Federal Emergency Management Agency regional director, “everything west of I-5 will be toast” when the subduction quake next strikes.

That will include La Conner.

The 1906 earthquake that nearly destroyed San Francisco has been calculated at an 8.2 on the Ricter scale. The 1700 subduction quake was a 9.0, nearly 100 times stronger than San Francisco’s 1906 shaker. That’s why the future subduction quake has gotten so much frightening press and why Washington is having the Great Shakeout drill the third Thursday morning in October


La Conner will not fare well when that quake happens, but neither will the town fare well when earthquakes 1,000 times less strong, magintude 7 on the Ricter scale, are produced by local faults. as they have been in the historical past.

La Conner’s water comes by way of a single large, vulnerable pipe that engineers say is unlikely to survive a magnitude 7 earthquake. Without water, it is very hard to fight fires which are a common result of broken gas pipes. La Conner sits on a river delta where the soil is subject to liquefaction caused by the shaking of groundwater soaked soil. Our wonderful historic buildings, all built since the last major earthquake, are quite vulnerable to major damage.

How to prepare:

1. Make a map of your neighborhood including who lives where and whether they have special needs or special skills.

2. Put together a “go bag” that includes credit cards, money, deeds, insurance policies, picture IDs, medicines for yeo weeks.

3. Secure bookcases and other furniture to the wall to prevent falling.

4. Train everyone in your household how to shut off water, electricity and gas.

5. Remember your animal’s needs: shelter, food, etc.

6. Set aside in an accessible place: safely store food for a week, water (if you have a tank water heater, you have water), basic first aid kit, fire extinguisher.

7. Make an evacuation plan to follow if ordered to evacuate.

8. Know what escape routes are available; what bridges are safe; what roads are passable.

Jerry George

La Conner


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