December 26, 2017
I admit it. I’m a complete nerd when it comes to natural disasters. I’m fascinated by tornadoes and all nature related phenomenon. And while we are mostly able to deal with windstorms, snowstorms and the occasional earthquake here in the Pacific Northwest, it’s impossible to imagine what December 26, 2004 must have been like for the people who experienced a rare mega-thrust earthquake and the devastating tsunami which struck near Sumatra in the Indian Ocean.
According to the infallible Wikipedia:
“It is the third-largest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph and had the longest duration of faulting ever observed, between 8.3 and 10 minutes. It caused the entire planet to vibrate as much as 1 centimeter (0.4 inches) and triggered other earthquakes as far away as Alaska. Its epicenter was between Simeulue and mainland Indonesia. The plight of the affected people and countries prompted a worldwide humanitarian response. In all, the worldwide community donated more than US$14 billion (2004) in humanitarian aid. The event is known by the scientific community as the Sumatra–Andaman earthquake. The resulting tsunami was given various names, including the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, South Asian tsunami, Indonesian tsunami, the Christmas tsunami, and the Boxing Day tsunami.”
What was particularly remarkable about this particular earthquake is that this was the first tsunami of this magnitude which was so widely filmed and seen in ‘real time.’ This scenario was repeated on March 11, 2011 when another mega thrust earthquake triggered yet another deadly tsunami, this time in Japan.
Until the videos started to pour in, I could only imagine what a tsunami might look like. To see how the water literally overpowers everything in its path is truly unfathomable. For the scientific community the knowledge gained is, no doubt, invaluable but we are made somber with the understanding that over 230,000 people were lost in this one event.
There have, of course, been other mega thrust quakes and tsunamis in the world. Scientists now believe that the west coast of the United States and Canada was hit by such an event on January 26, 1700. Information on the Cascadia quake has been pieced together through written Japanese records of a tsunami which did not correlate with a known earthquake in the region on that date. Evidence of the event has been via oral stories of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest and also physical evidence from British Columbia south to Northern California.
Is the Pacific Northwest at risk for a mega-thrust quake? Such an event strikes the coast, on average, every 500 years and scientists believe there have been at least seven such events in the past 3,500 years. It is now 317 years since the 1700 quake.
Down at Long Beach, Washington, there are the blue tsunami signs which direct people to routes that would, ostensibly, lead them to higher ground. Recently I saw a program on HGTV where a family was purchasing a vacation home ten miles north in Ocean Park. Personally, I would buy something no more than a mile north of Long Beach; in lesser known Seaview would be better. From that location there is a road which quickly gets you up on top of a rather tall promontory. If, however, one happens to be on the north end of the peninsula when such an earthquake occurs it’s probably best to carry an auto- inflatable rubber boat with you when visiting the coast.
For all you other science nerds out there, here are two Wikipedia links for you:
And two YouTube videos of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami:
The second one is much longer but it is a documentary of why and how the tsunami occurred.