Pacific Ocean | Ecotrope

Japan's tsunami: A preview of Oregon's big one

Ecotrope | March 11, 2011 4:18 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:40 p.m.

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Tsunami preparation leaders in Oregon agree: Today’s event (see it in pictures) was no big deal on our coast, but what happened in Japan is a preview of things to come in the case of a major Cascadia Zone rupture. A major Cascadia Zone quake takes place every 300 to 500 years and would turn much of the Oregon coast to rubble before dousing it with a major tsunami.

“What Japan experienced is like what our Cascadia zone earthquake event will be like,” Onno Husing, director of the Coastal Zone Management Association told Emily Harris on Think Out Loud this morning. “For the big one, the warning will be the earthquake.”

Husing said preparation for the big one will be crucial for people on the coast, who will have about 20 minutes to evacuate tsunami inundation zones after the quake.

Volcanic arcs and oceanic trenches partly encircling the Pacific Basin form the so-called Pacific Ring of fire, a zone of frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The trenches are shown in blue-green.

Volcanic arcs and oceanic trenches partly encircling the Pacific Basin form the so-called Pacific Ring of fire, a zone of frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The trenches are shown in blue-green.

“This experience reminds us that we live in the ring of fire, and tsunamis are not uncommon. What happened here today isn’t what we’re worried about. We’re worried about Japan. People tend to confuse the two events. It’s a constant struggle for me to get people to distinguish between the distant event we get fairly frequently and the local event where we get woken up by the earthquake. One is dangerous and one is not.”

There are three kinds of tsunami events the Oregon Coast could experience, Corcoran explained: Good, bad and ugly. Today’s tsunami is a “good” one. But there is a 37 percent chance of a “bad” one hitting the coast after a Cascadia Subduction Zone quake. And the worst case scenario, the “ugly,” is what happened 311 years ago: A magnitude 9 earthquake from Mendocino, Calif., to Vancouver Island.

“We need to look at the Japan footage and realize that is what we have to worry about,” said Corcoran. “How can we identify those areas of high ground now so if it’s a dark and stormy night and you get up in your bunny slippers you know where you’re going. And where is the high ground if you’re not at your home? As a North Coast resident, I’m driving in and out of tsunami inundation zones all day.”

Corcoran wanted to make three points following today’s tsunami evacuation dress rehearsal:

* The kind of event Oregonians really need to worry about starts with an earthquake in the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

* People need to be finding areas of high ground around inundation zones now – before the earthquake happens. Even if your house is on high ground, you never know where you’ll be when the big one hits.

* Develop a plan for reconnecting with loved ones. Don’t run into a danger zone to reconnect with children or family. Get to high ground and stay overnight.

Three helpful websites:

Tsunami preparedness in Oregon

NOAA’s Tsunami Warning Center

USGS Earthquake Hazards Program

Cascadia Subduction Zone

Cascadia Subduction Zone

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