Mar 12, 2011
Northwesterners should pay close attention to the tragedy unfolding in Japan because the same thing is headed our way, scientists say.
Seattle Times science reporter
Relief and dread mingled Friday across the Northwest after the monster earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Though at least one person was presumed drowned and several ports damaged in Northern California and Oregon, most of the region dodged damage from the waves.
But the horrific images from Japan of pancaked buildings and ships, and homes and cars being swept away like scraps were a reminder that a quake and tsunami of the same size — or bigger — will strike here some day.
"You have to be completely unaware not to look at this earthquake and ask yourself: What would Washington do if this was us?" said Tim Melbourne, an earthquake expert at Central Washington University. "This is really an eye-opener."
The fault that ruptured off the coast of Japan is a shorter version of the Cascadia Subduction Zone that extends for 600 miles along the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California. Subduction zones are the places where geologic plates overlap, with one being forced beneath the other.
Japan's magnitude 8.9 quake was the biggest in the country's recorded history. The force was more than 1,000 times that of the Nisqually earthquake that rattled Seattle for about 30 seconds 10 years ago. The shaking in Japan lasted six times as long.
The last time the Cascadia fault ruptured, more than 300 years ago, scientists estimate the quake registered magnitude 9 or greater. A resulting tsunami sped across the Pacific and destroyed villages in Japan.
The Cascadia fault appears to let loose every 500 years on average, though some scientists now argue that large quakes could occur twice as often. The Japanese fault has a comparable average recurrence time, though it had been more than 1,000 years since its last big slip.
"They're pretty darn similar," said Tom Jordan, professor of geophysics at the University of Southern California and director of the Southern California Earthquake Center.
Unlike many areas hit by recent quakes, Japan sets the standard for preparedness. That makes the level of damage even more sobering for coastal communities in the Northwest that have only recently developed warning systems and evacuation plans, Melbourne said.
"They are far better prepared than we are."
A high-tech tsunami-warning system developed after the Indian Ocean quake and tsunami of 2004 worked well to let people in Hawaii and along the U.S. West Coast know what to expect.
But the system is of little benefit to people who live close to a fault — whether in Japan or in the Northwest.
Coastal communities in Japan were slammed by water surges within minutes of the quake. The same thing will happen along the Washington and Oregon coasts when the next megaquake strikes here.
The best advice experts can offer folks in those communities is still pretty basic: When the ground shakes, get to high ground. (A Cascadia quake is unlikely to trigger tsunamis within Puget Sound, though communities along the Strait of Juan de Fuca could be affected.)
Tsunami alerts were issued about eight hours before the surges reached the West Coast. The warnings are based partly on sophisticated computer models developed by scientists at a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) lab in Seattle.
Researchers raced to the lab shortly after the quake, and worked around the clock to produce maps that estimate water levels around the Pacific basin.
Oceanographer Marie Eble arrived at 11 p.m. Thursday and was still sorting through tide-gauge data Friday afternoon. "This is certainly the biggest test of the system yet," she said.
Real-time measurements of water levels from a network of 50 tsunami buoys across the Pacific help the scientists fine tune their projections, Eble explained. Two buoys off the Japanese coast detected the tsunami wave within less than 10 minutes of the quake.
The models accurately predicted most tsunami levels, including the 8-foot surges that largely destroyed the harbor at Crescent City, Calif.
The small community is a "magnet" for tsunami damage, because of its location and offshore topography that channels wave energy, Eble said. The orientation of the harbor also traps water and maximizes the sloshing, said research scientist Burak Uslu.
In 1964, 11 people were killed in Crescent City by a tsunami generated by a quake in Alaska. The harbor was also damaged by a 2006 tsunami from a quake in the Kuril Islands.
Waves were much smaller along most of the coast, and they also arrived at low tide.
"That was lucky," said lab director Eddie Bernard.
Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Mary Ellen and I are both extremely pleased with the work that Matt and Richard did. Please pass on my personal "thank you" to each of them.
We were pleased with the amount of clean-up that was done at the end of each day.
Even with your discovery of unforeseen conditions that necessitated additional framing, it was still done within a very reasonable time-frame. My overall experience with Sound Seismic has been very positive and we will recommend your services to our circle of friends and family.
Again, thank you for a very "enjoyable" experience!
Mark and Mary Ellen Whitesell, Ballard, Seattle
I wish to praise SOUND SEISMIC for the earthquake retrofit they completed on my home. From the estimate to the finished job, Leif and his crew were professional, hard working, pleasant and exceptionally CLEAN. They handled the permit and inspections seamlessly. Office support from Elizabeth was equally professional, reliable and fast. I can't describe everything so I'll just say the whole experience was great.
Kristin Hill, Wallingford, Seattle
We recently had Sound Seismic do our earthquake retrofit. I cannot compliment enough the very professional job they did. Leif Jackson, the owner, sat with us for two hours answering questions and explaining how earthquakes work. He was completely above board, not promising more than he could deliver. He left interesting reading material so that we could evaluate and decide for ourselves. The most compelling was from FEMA warning people in the Puget Sound area to do everything they could to protect their homes because of our earthquake risk.
Once we were in contract, Leif sent our information to a structural engineer who drew up the plans. The bid was fair and complete. The crew showed up on the date the job started and completely it quickly. It looks great. Our new pony walls are gorgeous and the bolts and clamps very reassuring. City inspections were completed for the bolting and then for the finished job. This company is certified and high quality. Our house will be sticking around on the foundation. I encourage you to get over gambling about retrofitting and hire these guys. They are great.
Emily Elliott, Queen Anne
The crew kept me informed of their progress and plans all the time. They told me what their plans were, and delivered every time. Very satisfying knowing I could count on them doing what they promised - when they promised it!
Martin Muller, Olympic Manor, Seattle
Sound Seismic was the most professional group of contractors/employees I have ever dealt with. They were knowledgable, dependable, and skilled. The project lead was obviously well trained and knew what he was doing, was able to effectively manage and direct his crew and subcontractors. A quality job. Discovered an area behind my walls were my house was not up to code. Worked well will me to correct the problem and professional and reasonable about the change order.
Grateful homeowner, Mercer Island
The Sound Seismic crew arrived on time and got started on this structurally engineered and contracted job. It was estimated to take approximately one week to complete this work. The job was completed in 4 days with great professionalism and dedication to the work completed. The work passed a city inspection with no additional work required. The quality of work is excellent with great attention to detail.
Leon Young, Issaquah
Based in Ballard, the 2 man crew of Sound Seismic did a very clean, professional job of installing the earthquake retrofit. I was very happy with quality of the work and the way the crew kept the site clean and organized every day. They stick to a firm 8-hour work day for their employees and offer health benefits, a rarity in the contract world, it would seem. So their bid was not the lowest, however was comparable to a number of other firms, within 5-10%. Very punctual and professional in all coordination and in handling the 2 inspections reqd. by the city. No surprises or additional costs. I would recommend this contractor overall.
Jennifer Dovey, Broadview, Seattle
Sound Seismic did such a thorough job. Looking at their work lets me sleep better at night knowing my house is now very unlikely to shift off its foundations in an earthquake.
P. Kiraly, Madrona, Seattle
We thank you for the very professional work done by all of your people that we have had contact with. The crew working here were outstanding, and we were charmed by your lead carpenter, Matt.
Our basement has not been this clean in 70 years (the house is 70 years old)!
Bryant neighborhood, Seattle
We had a wonderful experience with Sound Seismic. After the devastating earthquake in Japan my husband and I were quite worried about our 3 story brick home and decided to retrofit our basement as a way to ease our anxiety and protect our family.
Sound Seismic's estimate was more reasonable than any of the others we got and we felt very confident knowing that Leif and his team have done many retrofits, including our friend's basement. Leif was able to explain the process to me, answer my questions, and gave me the estimate within an hour of coming to the house.
The hardest part of the process was moving our furniture and boxes out of the way to prepare the basement - after that things just moved along smoothly. I had been expecting huge holes in the walls and dust everywhere but the work was really tidy and not nearly as disruptive as I had feared. My kids and I were able to stay in the house the whole time, only playing out in the backyard a couple times when the banging was loud. The baby was even able to take naps in the midst of the demolition!
Matt was very professional and friendly, he always arrived on time and he communicated well, checking in with us at the end of each day to show us the progress of the work. He was able to finish the work a half-day sooner than planned and there were no hidden costs or extra changes when the invoice arrived.
I would highly recommend Sound Seismic to anyone -- they were fantastic!
Rachel Opel, Ballard, Seattle
Thanks for the great work on the house - you've done an outstanding job of prompt, low-impact work - and leaving the job site in excellent shape. Appreciate the attention to detail."
Wayne Dodge, Ravenna, Seattle
"I wanted to follow up and thank you for your good communication, strong planning and flexibility.
Matt was great. Very professional, low key, friendly and efficient."
Urs Koenig, Madrona, Seattle
Sound Seismic gave a very competitive bid, clearly explained everything they were going to do, accomodated my schedule, and produced a very high quality outcome. I highly recommend them.
Gary Johnson, Wallingford, Seattle
Matt and Richard did a great job! It was a pleasure to meet them. And as soon as I met Matt, I knew that everything would be done 'right.'
They took extra care at every level: and left everything better than ever. They were able to remove the siding without cutting it, which is great, too.
I am glad that I got to see how substantial the anchors, fasteners, etc. are - and how robustly the plywood panels are nailed in. ( It was hard for me to tell from the blueprints alone.)
I am very happy with all aspects of the plan and the work, Leif.
David Rosenbaum, Sand Point, Seattle
All in all, we felt the project went extremely well. Given the number of earthquakes worldwide of late, we are pleased to have had the work done. We’d rather not have it tested, but we know we are in as good a position as possible if the ground starts shaking!
I wanted to let you know what a great job that your crew did on our earthquake retrofit. They were very knowledgeable about the whole process and answered any questions we had without hesitation. Their work was excellent and they finished the job quickly. I have done my share of remodeling in the past and I can say that they cleaned up after each day’s work more thoroughly than anyone I’ve ever encountered. They took obvious pride in the retrofit work they did but also in the cleanup. They saw that as an integral part of the Sound Seismic service. All in all, it was a fast and painless experience.
Thanks for assigning those fine young men to our job.
Paul Gustie, Fremont
Sound Seismic performed an engineered retrofit on our house built in 1928. I've never had a better experience working with a contractor - thoroughly professional (truly experienced and knowledgeable in their craft), they were also excellent communicators throughout the engagement. And the cleanup afterwards was amazing. I would recommend them without reservation!
George Murphy, Northgate, Seattle
I wanted to thank you for the wonderful job you did retrofitting my home in South Seattle. I was aware that it would be a challenge and it proved to offer more problems than we expected. You met them all and did a great job correcting the rot and damage that happened over the years since 1927, when the house was built.
When I arrived home yesterday the basement was clean and organized. It was the first time I did not have to spend hours cleaning up after a contractor. Your lead carpenter and his assistant were a great team. Thanks for all your efforts.
Patrick Murphy, Mount Baker
I can't think of a single way you could improve the service of your company. Yours is one of the VERY best companies I've worked with on this home.
Jeannie Macri, West Seattle
Sound Seismic completed a earthquake retrofit on our house. Their explanation about what to expect and what we'd get was clear and straightforward; the work was completed as described, as scheduled and exactly on time; clean-up: spotless.
Harriet B., Ballard
"The experience with Sound Seismic was possibly the finest I have had in my dealings with any of my trade contractors. Your crew was knowledgable, well informed, hard working, tidy, as well as a pleasure to have on my job."
Thank you very much for your excellent work on retrofitting our house. We appreciated your careful oversight of the project, ongoing contact with the engineering firm, attention to detail, and clean and timely work. You really rose to the challenges presented by "this old house."
Sound Seismic exhibited a great combination of skill, hard work, and professionalism. You treated our home and our project as though you were doing it on your own house.
Everything looks good. Thanks for the all the work your guys did, very professional.
Stuart Jamieson, Montlake
Sound Seismic did an excellent job of the seismic retrofit on my two-story house, which entailed quite a lot of siding work as I don't have a basement. The workmen were punctual, neat and meticulous. I feel safer because of their work.
Pippa Kiraly., Madrona
Just wanted to send you a note to express how pleased we are with the work your firm recently completed. You did exactly what you said you would and the quality of the work is first rate. Also, please tell Matt how much we enjoyed him. Thanks,
Gary Johnson, Wallingford