Brace Yourselves: The Big One is Coming – Erin Lee, Canada

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For years, seismologists have been predicting the arrival of the “Big One”, a massive earthquake that registers as 9.0 or higher on the Richter scale and happens every 300 to 600 years. With the last “Big One” having occurred in 1700, the next one is due to hit the Pacific Rim with repercussions that will be shake not only British Columbia, but the entire world.

British Columbia is not only the area in the line of fire. The Canadian province is one of many regions on the Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ), a fault line that begins at British Columbia’s southernmost tip, Vancouver Island, and ends in California. The CSZ is where the megaquake, estimated to be a magnitude of 9.2, struck 316 years ago. The effects of this quake were felt in Japan, a nation on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, in the form of a tsunami. Other countries in the Ring of Fire, situated on the edges of the Pacific Ocean, are vulnerable to feeling the aftermath in the form of earthquakes or three to four metre waves. In other words, no landmass that lies on the ocean between Asia and North America will be left unscathed.

British Columbia, particularly its west coast, is in a dangerous position because it is situated on a fault line in which the ocean crust is moving underneath the tectonic plate North America is on. The stress accumulated by two plates colliding mounts as one is pushed under and the other above and is released in the form of an earthquake. North America’s west coast, which includes major states such as Washington state, Oregon and California, also lie on the precarious CSZ. With so many densely populated regions in this volatile zone, seismologists have predicted that the “Big One” could cause over 10 000 deaths and lead to as many as 1 million people losing their homes. With the loss of lives and infrastructure, British Columbia alone would face approximately $75 billion CAD worth of damages.

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Despite such bleak predictions, British Columbia has done little to prepare for an earthquake that has a 1/100 000 chance of occurring on any day. Since 2006, there has been no increase in the provincial budget set aside for the “Big One”. According to CBC, BC’s auditor general Russ Jones has stated that the EMBC, BC’s emergency management agency, is insufficiently equipped to handle with the aftermath of the megaquake. Much of the preparation depends on the residents themselves; the province has set guidelines and recommendations for families to follow in the case of an earthquake. Families are recommended to have emergency kits that include water, non-perishable food items and a First Aid kit ready beforehand. The government has cautioned that the earthquake may disrupt cellular reception and transportation pathways. It is advised that they evacuate to elevated ground first and prepare to sustain themselves for 72 hours.

And so, the waiting game begins.

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