Disaster. Destruction. Catastrophe.
We’ve heard those words often this week, the aftershocks of the The New Yorker’s article about Seattle’s impending doom. Seattle sits on the Cascadia fault, it turns out, and that fault is overdue for an earthquake. A big one.
A really big one.
According to The New Yorker: “The next full-margin rupture of the Cascadia subduction zone will spell the worst natural disaster in the history of the continent.” This earthquake and the ensuing tidal wave will make San Andreas look like a fire drill.
“FEMA projects that nearly thirteen thousand people will die in the Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. Another twenty-seven thousand will be injured, and the agency expects that it will need to provide shelter for a million displaced people, and food and water for another two and a half million. … Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.”
The Cascadia subduction zone has wrecked the Pacific Northwest before, wiping out entire Native American tribes and permanently altering the landscape. The last time it shook was in 1700—and that’s the problem. After studying the geological record, scientists discovered that the Cascadia fault averages a major earthquake every 243 years. But it’s been 315 years since the last one.
The odds of that giant, civilization-leveling earthquake occurring in the next 50 years is one in ten. The odds of a slightly less giant, and only civilization-wrecking earthquake happening in the next 50 years is one in three. Those are numbers that has Seattle in an uproar. Because if the giant one happens:
“Anything indoors and unsecured will lurch across the floor or come crashing down: bookshelves, lamps, computers, canisters of flour in the pantry. Refrigerators will walk out of kitchens, unplugging themselves and toppling over. Water heaters will fall and smash interior gas lines. Houses that are not bolted to their foundations will slide off—or, rather, they will stay put, obeying inertia, while the foundations, together with the rest of the Northwest, jolt westward. Unmoored on the undulating ground, the homes will being to collapse.”
After that initial destruction, recovery will come slowly. In some places, recovery will come not at all.
“OSSPAC estimates that in the I-5 corridor it will take between one and three months after the earthquake to restore electricity, a month to a year to restore drinking water and sewer service, six months to a year to restore major highways, and eighteen months to restore health-care facilities. On the coast, those numbers go up. Whoever chooses or has no choice but to stay there will spend three to six months without electricity, one to three years without drinking water and sewage systems, and three or more years without hospitals. Those estimates do not apply to the tsunami-induction zone, which will remain all but uninhabitable for years.”
This is scary. But although everyone is talking and worrying and looking at land further east, keep this in mind: We have a 2/3 chance of missing that big earthquake. And a 9/10 chance of missing the giant one. Those numbers look quite a bit more reassuring, right?
As far as we’re concerned, Seattle is still the best place to live. Every place has its dangers: tornadoes, volcanoes, floods, hurricanes. Ours just happens to be earthquakes.
But if all this doom and gloom still has you spooked, there is a silver lining: we can help you sell your house!
As a full-service real estate team, we handle interior cleaning, pay for staging, bring in a professional photographer, and do everything we can to sell your house for the best possible price. If you’re fleeing the Cascadia fault, we won’t just list your house—we’ll partner with you to sell it.
But if you’re willing to stick it out, we couldn’t agree more. This is a special city we live in, and we wouldn’t trade it for the world.