Earthquake News

The horrific earthquake in Japan hits close to home.

EVEN the harrowing videos of Japan's 8.9 magnitude earthquake appear to stretch on forever. Images of the 23-foot tidal wave crashing onshore and its debris-laden onslaught inland are particularly distressing.

The natural calamity in Japan is a human tragedy with a specific resonance in the Puget Sound region. The unprecedented loss of life, damage, and economic devastation are heartbreaking. The sights are even more distressing by our awareness of our own weakness.

The quake, which struck 80 miles off Japan's eastern coast and was felt across a wide area, is the sixth biggest on record since 1900. Two days previously, the area had a 7.2 magnitude tremor, which geologists refer to as a forequake.

With the 10th anniversary of the Nisqually earthquake on February 28, 2001, magnitudes take on new significance. Sandi Doughton of the Seattle Times described how scientists have spent the last decade cataloguing a growing array of dangers and risks. In 2001, ten active faults were added to the two recognized problems.

The 8.9 quake in Japan was ten times more strong, with each point greater than the 6.8 quake in Nisqually. Estimates of the amount of energy emitted are significantly higher. Our region is prone to deep offshore quakes and shallow faults near cities, comparable to the characteristics that led to the February quake in New Zealand.

Scientists were shocked by the amount of large faults identified in this region in the last decade, according to Doughton, but same insights and realities are also influencing building and emergency planning, according to a government seismic-hazard specialist.

Reports of coastal evacuation preparations in Washington and Oregon dominated early morning radio broadcasts on Friday. Even one-hour school delays were adjusted in response to tsunami warnings.

It is literally inescapable to incorporate earthquake issues into future development planning. Science, engineering, and a healthy dose of humility must lead these attempts. Countries with a history of deadly earthquakes, such as Japan and Chile, responded with stricter building regulations, only to have them surpassed by increasingly destructive tremors.

Following the earthquake on Friday, Japan's nuclear reactors are receiving additional attention. Many have been shut down, and several are facing cooling system issues. Flooding, fires, and collapsing structures all had an impact.

The international community is stepping up with technical support and humanitarian relief. After doing all possible to console the sick, scientific research must commence. Puget Sound has legitimate reasons to be concerned about the lessons learnt.

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