Writings and observations

Tsunami redux

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Couple of weeks ago, I wrote about we folk living with the tsunami “Sword of Damocles” off our Pacific shores here on the far west edge of Oregon. A reader/friend accused me of making light of the daily threat and said – given the 9.0 Fukushima quake – there had to be major facts I was omitting.

He’s right. I did omit. I was “making light.” So, here’s tsunami redux – the “story-behind-the-story.”

Should we get hit with a 9-point shaker, it’ll likely be because the Cascadia Subduction Plate on the ocean floor about 50 miles out and the San Juan Plate from the north either collide or one suddenly moves atop the other. The same deadly results will probably occur either way. At the moment, Oregon State University geologists and others have evidence those plates may’ve already met and are locked. They believe that likely means pressure is building up which has no apparent means of escape short of a real blast when it can no longer be contained. Underwater seismograph evidence.

Which means, we could have a real “barn burner” of a blast – possibly that 9.0. Or more. And what would that mean?

Well, Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) surmises all bridges along the coast … ALL bridges … will fail! Further, most of the bridges for 50-70 miles inland between us and Interstate 5 – which runs north and south between Washington and California – will go, too. Hundreds of major landslides. Most – if not all roads from I-5 to the coast – would be impassable. ODOT believes we on the coast would be isolated for up to three years!

We coastal folk couldn’t go north or south. We couldn’t go inland, either. Again, ODOT predicting we’d be completely cut off for three years or so.

Want more? Bonneville Power estimates all coastal communities – from Astoria to Brookings – could be without power for three to five years before the electrical infrastructure could be rebuilt. How would that affect your daily lives?

More? Well, water, sewer and other necessary services would be destroyed within the first few minutes of a major quake. No public entity is willing to even hazzard a guess about how long it would take to replace all that, too.

So, yes, I was underplaying the effects of a tsunami a couple of weeks ago. Truth is, it would be Hell! But there’s one thing that keeps most coastal dwellers calm. Most – yes. MOST – don’t know what you do now. I’ve talked to many – in church – at service clubs – socially – and the projections from ODOT and Bonneville and other agencies don’t come up in the conversations. Even when you ask. Sort of “What-I-don’t-know-can’t-hurt-me,” I guess. Or, “Que Sara.”

Among those of us who are aware of the danger out there in the Pacific, I can’t tell you how others reconcile living here – waiting for “that day.” But here’s how I handle it.

When it comes, I hope me and mine go in the first large tidal wave. ‘Cause there ain’t gonna be much of a life left for survivors. If there are any.

For many years in my Air Force life, I was stationed at Strategic Air Command bases in various locations. All were high on the missile targeting list of the old Soviet Union. The last several years were in the underground command post near Omaha. Since all U.S. intercontinental nuclear operations were controlled there, we knew we were in the top three or four on that Soviet target list.

During those years, the biggest scam going in this country was building underground “shelters” in your backyard. For what? To marginally survive six or seven months and come up to what? Radiation so high you’d die in a week. No food left. No potable water. Not even healthy air! Survive for what? How?

In the military at that time, unless your dad was a member of Congress who could get you assigned far, far away, you learned to live with “swords” like that hanging over your daily lives in many places. Part of the job. The lives of your nearby family, too. Trained by the military in the after-effects of nuclear blasts, it wasn’t so much surviving as it was deciding when you wanted to go. And how. I chose quick!

To some of us, that same sort of mindset is handy when thinking of tsunami’s and 9.0 quakes and immense tidal waves. Yes, there are days when life inland seems a smarter, safer way to live. Then, you think, “What are the odds? Today? This week? This month? This year?”

Maybe when we were in our 20’s or 30’s, living near the Cascadia Plate would’ve meant rethinking the decision that brought us to the water’s edge. Maybe. But, when the years you’ve got left can probably be counted on your fingers, the lure of blue skies, warm temps, crazy-but-beautiful coastal storms and all that beach-time can bring you to a different conclusion.

So, to my reader/friend who thought I was holding out on describing the tsunami dangers, now you know what some of us know. But you’re still 450 miles inland in Boise. We’re still at ground zero. And it’s not so bad.

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