earthquakes | KUOW News and Information

earthquakes

More people than ever—1.2 million in Washington state and more than 570,000 in Oregon—are registered to participate in the annual Great ShakeOut earthquake and tsunami drill Thursday morning.


Not coincidentally, a Washington state agency is using this week to highlight how the Evergreen State needs to play catch up with neighboring states on earthquake preparedness.

An unreinforced masonry wall fails a shake test at the University of British Columbia
Courtesy of UBC

Seattle has 1,100 old brick buildings that are especially vulnerable to collapsing in a big earthquake. Few have been retrofitted to withstand a major seismic event.

Now researchers at the University of British Columbia say they’ve come up with a cheap, fast way to reinforce such buildings: spray them with bendable concrete.

A scene from a simulation by the Washington State Department of Transportation of what could happen if a massive earthquake hits the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
YouTube/WSDOT

Hundreds of old brick buildings in Seattle are at risk of collapsing during a major earthquake – that’s clear.

Also clear: These structures are often in neighborhoods with high risk for displacement – affecting people of color and low-income households.

Last week’s earthquake in Mexico provided another reminder about the risks of poorly reinforced buildings. According to government studies, there are literally thousands of older brick and concrete buildings in Oregon and Washington that could collapse in a strong earthquake.

A scene from a simulation by the Washington State Department of Transportation of what could happen if a massive earthquake hits the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
YouTube/WSDOT

Seconds before last week's 7.1 magnitude earthquake in Mexico City, people got an alert that the ground was about to start shaking. The Sistema de Alerta Sismica Mexicano, or SASMEX, gives people a chance to get under a desk or leave a building before the shaking begins. 

Friends and family in Mexico City write a thank you to people in Seattle who contributed to the earthquake victims.
KUOW Photo/Liz Jones

SAN GREGORIO ATLAPULCO, MEXICO - A week after Mexico City’s devastating earthquake, donations continue to pour in. One came this week from Seattle and was delivered by hand to a hard hit town. KUOW's Liz Jones just happened to be nearby.


Updated 6:30 a.m. ET Wednesday

The head of Mexico's civil defense agency has lowered the number of people confirmed dead in Tuesday's earthquake. Luis Felipe Puente now says 217 people were killed. Earlier he said the death toll was 248. He gave no explanation for the revised number.

Updated at 3:30 a.m. ET

The death toll continues to rise in Mexico after Tuesday's earthquake. The country's national civil defense agency confirmed the death toll stands at 248. Rescue teams are digging through the rubble to find survivors.

An earthquake with a magnitude of 5.8 startled many people out of their sleep in western Montana early Thursday. The shallow quake was felt for hundreds of miles from its epicenter southeast of Lincoln, including in parts of neighboring states and in Canada.

"We have no reports of injuries due to the earthquake at this time," member station Montana Public Radio reports. "Shockwaves are still being felt with decreasing intensity in parts of western Montana."

Vulnerability assessments by utilities and emergency planners along the U.S. West Coast suggest it could be weeks or a month or more before water service gets restored after a major earthquake - not to mention electricity, sewage treatment and fuel supply too. The social and economic disruption does not have to be that bad though, given adequate preparedness and investments in critical infrastructure as demonstrated in Japan.

This image is a close up of the standing timber on the south end of Mercer Island.  The image is generated using a side scan sonar towed behind a boat about 20 feet off the bottom. The trees are visible mostly from the shadows they cast.
Courtesy of Ben Griner of Coastal Sensing & Survey

At the southern end of Lake Sammamish, just off Greenwood Point, several jagged, gray logs stick up from the water. They’re the only visible sign of an ancient, perfectly-preserved underwater forest that’s been sitting at the bottom of the lake for over a thousand years.

A screenshot from the U.S. Geological Survey earthquakes website shows the epicenter of a 3.4 earthquake near Bremerton, Wash., early Wednesday.
U.S. Geological Survey

A small earthquake centered near Bremerton shook the central Puget Sound area early Wednesday.

Public schools in Washington state would be encouraged—but not required—to hold at least one earthquake drill per year under a measure scheduled for Gov. Jay Inslee's signature Thursday.

The state of Oregon has announced a new round of taxpayer-funded grants to help schools and other public buildings better withstand a major earthquake.

The grant program is funded by state bonds. It was created just over a decade ago when lawmakers became convinced of the need to protect critical infrastructure as well as to protect lives of vulnerable people in the event of a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.

An early warning system for earthquakes is expanding to Oregon and Washington — thanks to a group of universities and government agencies.

California has had the "ShakeAlert" system for a couple of years. And depending on where an earthquake hits, it can give nearby cities a warning of up to a minute or two. That’s enough for a train to stop, a lift to open, or for people to get out of a building.

Big earthquakes happen infrequently enough in the Northwest that people can be lulled into complacency. That’s not the case in Japan.

Most large Japanese cities have at least one disaster training center, where people can learn in realistic simulators what to do in an earthquake, typhoon or fire. Leaders from the Pacific Northwest who have seen these centers say it’s a concept worth copying.

The report cards are in and it's not pretty if you worry about how you'll fare after a magnitude 9 Cascadia megaquake and tsunami. Washington and Oregon's emergency management divisions have now published after-action reviews of last June's multi-state disaster drill called Cascadia Rising .

Washington state is playing catch-up compared to other West Coast states on earthquake preparedness. A "subcabinet" of state agency directors convened by Gov. Jay Inslee will hold its first public meeting Tuesday afternoon to review possible actions to improve.

A magnitude 6.5 earthquake struck off the coast of Indonesia around 5 a.m. local time on Wednesday, killing nearly 100 people.

The death toll is expected to rise as rescue and recovery efforts continue, NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports.

The quake was at a relatively shallow depth, just 11 miles under the Earth's surface, Anthony says. Its epicenter was on the coast of Aceh province, the same region where an earthquake triggered a devastating tsunami in 2004.

No tsunami warning has been issued following Wednesday's quake. Aftershocks continue to shake the region.

After a powerful earthquake struck New Zealand on Sunday, several vital railroads and highways have been destroyed, stranding more than a thousand people in the affected region.

At least two people died in the Sunday night earthquake, which was magnitude 7.8 and triggered a small tsunami.

Since then, visitors and residents alike have also been grappling with a series of aftershocks — including several at magnitude 6.0 or higher.

KUOW Photo/Caroline Chamberlain

Bill Radke talks with Bill Steele of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network at the University of Washington about how Washington state is unprepared for a large earthquake.

Last June, Washington held the Cascadia Rising earthquake response drill. A report in the wake of the drill found that Washington is unprepared. Steele explains what we should be doing individually and regionally before a major earthquake strikes.

Gabriella Garrett, Colleen Andersonn Marci Oliveri went for a ride on the earthquake simulator Tuesday afternoon.
KUOW Photo/Katherine Banwell

The city of Seattle invited the public to a "Big Shaker" event Tuesday at Westlake Park to be part of an earthquake simulation and nudge people to prepare for the inevitable.

KUOW's Katherine Banwell went along for the ride and sent us this audio postcard featuring Dean Reese, CEO of Ready America; simulator participants Gabriella Garrett, Colleen Anderson and Marci Oliveri; and Matt Auflick of the Seattle Office of Emergency Management.

Earthquakes Rattle Southern Oregon Coast

Sep 25, 2016

A pair of moderate earthquakes rattled the coast of Southern Oregon and Northern California late Saturday evening and early Sunday morning, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

A magnitude 5.0 quake occurred in the Pacific Ocean nearly 100 miles off the coast of Gold Beach, Oregon, around 10:01 p.m. Saturday. A magnitude 4.6 quake rumbled nearly 100 miles off the coast of Brookings, Oregon, nearly five hours later.

Over the last several years, scientists, including those at the U.S. Geological Survey and the Environmental Protection Agency, have linked an increase in earthquakes in Texas to oil and gas activity. But, industry and Texas state regulators remain reluctant to publicly acknowledge it.  Now, a study that looks at the quakes from space might put more pressure on them to do so.


Seaside School District has four schools in the tsunami zone.

The school board unanimously approved a bond measure Thursday to build a new campus outside the tsunami zone. It tried to pass a bond to get them out in 2013, but that failed.

Superintendent Doug Dougherty thinks this time it’ll be different.

First, because Weyerhaeuser has donated land above the tsunami zone. And second, because Seaside is first in line to receive $4 million in matching funds from the state.

Updated at 12:50 a.m. ET on Thursday:

Officials in Italy say the death toll has risen to 247. The Associated Press quotes the country's civil protection agency, after it announced updated figures about 27 hours after the earthquake struck. Urgent search efforts continue.

Original Post:

Preschoolers huddle beneath a table at Green Tree Early Learning Center in Seattle, which conducts monthly earthquake drills.
KUOW Photo/Ann Dornfeld

Bill Radke speaks with Seattle Times reporter Sandi Doughton about why so many Washington state schools are unprepared for a major earthquake.


A Portland firefighter and a national guardsman check for bodies in a pile of crumpled cars at the base of a blackened tower.

They pull a dummy out of one of the cars – one of the few "survivors" of this simulated post-earthquake emergency. They strap the critically injured victim onto a backboard and hook it to a set of dangling ropes.

“Basically, we have an overpass that’s crashed down," said Matthew Silva of Portland Fire & Rescue. "We’ve got three vehicles and multiple victims. They’re trapped at the bottom of this ravine at the bottom of the overpass.”

To the average pedestrian, it was just a curb. To an observant one, perhaps, it was an oddly misaligned curb.

To geologists, it was a snapshot of the earth's shifting tectonic plates — an accidental experiment, a field trip destination for decades.

But to the town of Hayward, Calif., it was just a bit of subpar infrastructure.

The Los Angeles Times sums up what happened next:

'Week in Review' panel Marcus Green, Knute Berger, Erica C. Barnett and Bill Radke.
KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has a reputation for being a hothead. How should we react to his controversial behavior with city council members?

Also this week, we posted an essay by a Seattle University professor who had a racially-charged encounter in a Seattle Starbucks. Is this a racial story or a Seattle story?

Planes and parachutes might be the best bet for getting supplies to cut-off areas in the event of a subduction zone earthquake. National Guard pilots and paratroopers practiced supply drops and parachute jumps Thursday.

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