Earthquake News

Earthquake in Chile Shows What Might Happen in Seattle, Portland

Just off-shore of the Washington and Oregon coasts lies an earthquake fault that's the same type as the one that ruptured in the Chilean earthquake. It's called the Cascadia subduction zone. It let loose a massive earthquake three centuries ago that sent tsunamis all the way to Japan.

Also, our cities are similar to Chile's. "The building stock that they have is much more comparable to ours, than Haiti where there were no building codes to enforce, " says Mark Pierepierkarz, of MRP Engineering in Newcastle, Wash. He helps design buildings to withstand earthquakes, including a couple in Santiago, Chile. And, he helped write a what-if scenario for earthquakes in Seattle.

The good news, so far, from Chile is nearly all the modern buildings appear to have withstood the shaking. On the other hand, some people were killed by collapsing structures.

Stacy Bartoletti, of Degenkolb Engineers, has also worked in Chile and Seattle. He says buildings in Seattle and Portland are probably a little sturdier than those in Santiago and Concepcion, due to stricter building codes adopted in the late 1990's.

The concern is older buildings - especially anything with brick or concrete built before the 1970's. That includes historic buildings and a lot of warehouses, like the ones in south Seattle and Kent.

Bartoletti says a new goal is for buildings to be "resilient," so they not only stand up, but are habitable. He says, we're realizing, people need a place to live after an earthquake. So engineers are pushing for even tougher construction standards. Eventually they expect to get a lot of useful information from Chile. The Chileans have seismic monitors in many high-rise buildings, which will show how modern buildings behave. Local engineers expect to be on the ground in Chile by the end of the week.

Web Extras: 

The City of Seattle's advice for protecting your home from an earthquake.
What to do during an earthquake
Scientists and planners created a simulation of a mega-quake in the Cascadia zone.
The Cascadia Region Earthquake Workgroup is a coalition working on getting the region better prepared. 


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