VANCOUVER — It seemed funny at the time.
We were home Tuesday evening, a TV newscast switched on but mostly ignored. Then came an item that caught our attention: A demonstration of newfangled beds, equipped to detect seismic tremors and ready to collapse with their occupants, tossed like rag-dolls, into solid, sealed metal boxes. Earthquake-proof, it was claimed.
Ludicrous contraptions, or so they seemed. We had a good laugh before crawling into our own queen-size, a bed so old-fashioned that it doesn’t recline, let alone transform into an indestructible tomb.
Twenty minutes before midnight, the bedroom began to move. The apartment shifted. The whole damn building swayed.
It was an earthquake, moderate in power but impossible to ignore. We were slightly confused, a little scared, and completely, hopelessly unprepared. And we weren’t laughing anymore.
“What do we do?” my wife wondered out loud. Quite loud.
“Uh, get under a doorway?” My response was lame and, I was later informed, quite wrong.
Tuesday’s magnitude 4.7 event was located about 50 kilometres under southern Vancouver Island and could be felt across British Columbia’s southern coast. It wasn’t the first shaker ever in the region, of course, nor the strongest, nor was it an isolated event; in fact, it was the 10th earthquake recorded around the world Tuesday.
It was no “megathrust,” no Big One. There were no reports of injuries. or physical damage, aside from some broken bottles, such as those discovered later on a Sidney, B.C., liquor store floor. But the event rattled people. Earthquake report hotlines caught fire.
“Felt it while I was sitting at my computer, all my bobble heads were shaking,” reported someone in Langley, near Vancouver. “Lasted fairly long, long enough for me to start yelling about it before it was over.”
“Caused my head to sway slightly. More of a feeling of being inebriated but I hadn’t consumed any alcohol,” noted a correspondent in Chilliwack.
“Cat got nervous,” chimed in a Nanaimo resident.
I called around the next day. A relative on Vancouver Island said she felt her house shake and heard a loud “bang” when the quake hit. I asked what precautions she has taken, should the Big One arrive.
“I have a can opener in my closet,” she said. “I suppose I should get some cans.”
On Wednesday, CBC radio interviewed Victoria’s mayor, Lisa Helps. Asked about her earthquake preparedness, Helps mentioned some of the stuff she has squirrelled away in her backyard. Ten days supply of food and water, for starters. I felt more shame.
I probably wasn’t alone. “Late-night earthquake ‘a wake-up call’,” screamed a local headline Thursday, with a story underneath that explained why people living in earthquake zones — and in B.C.’s case, the dreaded Cascadia subduction zone — must have proper earthquake plans.
In our home, the post-4.7 quake discussion moved from door-frames-make-lousy-earthquake-protection-because-the-Internet-says-so, to appropriate apocalypse attire to the inevitable “should we move/where else are we going to live?”
I decided emotions were too raw to pull from our magazine pile the July 20, 2015 edition of The New Yorker, with its terrifying earthquake feature, “The Really Big One.” The real horror is revealed in the subtitle: “An earthquake will destroy a sizeable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when.”
When the next very big earthquake hits, the northwest edge of the continent, from California to Canada and the continental shelf to the Cascades, will drop by as much as six feet and rebound thirty to a hundred feet to the west
The writer, Kathryn Schultz, describes in great detail our Cascadia subduction zone and what will happen when the Big One occurs. Which it will. Perhaps any day now.
“When the next very big earthquake hits, the northwest edge of the continent, from California to Canada and the continental shelf to the Cascades, will drop by as much as six feet and rebound thirty to a hundred feet to the west — losing, within minutes, all the elevation and compression it has gained over centuries,” writes Schultz.
“Some of that shift will take place beneath the ocean, displacing a colossal quantity of seawater…The water will surge upward into a huge hill, then promptly collapse. One side will rush west, toward Japan. The other side will rush east, in a seven-hundred-mile liquid wall that will reach the Northwest coast, on average, fifteen minutes after the earthquake begins. By the time the shaking has ceased and the tsunami has receded, the region will be unrecognizable.”
Schultz goes into more detail about what to expect — utter chaos — and what will be left – very little. It’s a remarkable piece, and anyone who reads it — especially those of us living in or near the Cascadia subduction zone — may feel helpless and doomed.
Or, we might prepare, as best we can. I checked: Earthquake beds start at about $500.