Experts say it is only a matter of time before the Pacific Northwest is hit by a tsunami. Five years ago, Japan was devastated by a tsunami that did irreparable damage to its southern coast as a result of a 9.0 magnitude earthquake. The Pacific Northwest region hasn’t seen a quake at that magnitude since the 1700s, and paleo-seismologists are saying it’s long overdue. The two plates are converging—one sliding under the other—but are stuck. “And so what happens is the weaker plate, which is North America, buckles. And eventually something’s going to give, and so the coastline that’s been jacked up over 500-ish years or so is going to drop about a meter in about a minute or so,” Chris Goldfinger, a paleo-seismologist at Oregon State University, told CBS News.
And that’s just the earthquake. Then there’s the matter of the inevitable tsunami—with waves as high as 50 feet roaring on shore, reaching miles inland—that comes afterward. “This would be like five or six Katrinas all at once, up and down from California to Canada, would be the closest thing I can think of,” said Goldfinger. CBS News‘s Don Dahler asked Ken Murphy, the Administrator for Region X of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, “Is FEMA ready for the Big One?”
“I would never say we are ready,” he replied. “Depending on when it happens, we’re talking numbers that this nation I’m not sure is really prepared to deal with.”
“Potentially the greatest natural disaster this country has ever experienced?” asked Dahler.
“I would say it has the potential for that. This is an event you send everything to, and scale back down if you don’t need it.”