COLUMN: Not much we can do but wait for it

While we sit here in relative complacency, horrified at a presumably safe distance from the devastation that struck Nepal ...

On the Other Hand by Mark Rushton

While we sit here in relative complacency, horrified at a presumably safe distance from the devastation that struck Nepal this past week, it should be a wake-up to everyone along the B.C. coast. You just have to ‘Google’ the frequency of earthquakes that rock B.C. almost every day to realize we are also a disaster waiting to happen.

Watching newscasts of the Nepal devastation, it is easy to understand how so many died due to rickety building construction, and perhaps easy to understand our relative disregard due to our presumed superior construction.

However, the degree of safety is assumed, since schools built only 30 years ago or so require, and such as Yale Secondary is currently undergoing, seismic upgrades, as is the relatively recent construction of the Mission Bridge over the Fraser.

For some the response is “about time,” – for others it’s “nice to see” – but most just ignore it, despite the fact there are thousands of buildings on the Lower Mainland built long before seismic awareness.

Yet, in the past 11 days alone B.C. has recorded 10 quakes, the largest registering 6.2 magnitude in Kitimat on Friday, bracketed by two 4.1 magnitude events hitting Haida Gwaii.

By seismic standards those three were relatively mild, though they were ground and building shakers just the same.

In the Seattle area in 2001, a 6.8 tremor caused a billion dollars in damage, and last year was the 50th anniversary of the Alaska quake that sent a tsunami roaring down the B.C. coast and all the way up the Alberni Canal, inundating a substantial area of that central Vancouver Island city.

I recall being in a Langley office about 12 years ago when things began to shake.

We rushed outside, and in awe watched hydro poles sway and the parking lot gently ripple . . . “cool.”

No damage, no big scare, but it did remind that we are in an earthquake zone, one that science predicts will sooner or later be the recipient of a shaker far greater than the one that has devastated Nepal and the northern India sub-continent.

Warnings are that buildings constructed on Fraser Valley floodplain lands, such as Richmond, will not so much fall down as sink into the vast depths of the alluvial delta, the base soil becoming the consistency of liquid Jell-O due to the vibrations.

Similarly, the dikes that hold back the Fraser River and the ocean waters from coastal areas are expected to disintegrate.

Certainly it sounds like a doomsday scenario, and what has just happened in Nepal is a warning that we are far from invulnerable.

Yet what to do?

I don’t have an answer, but I do know we need to be more prepared for it than we were for the oil spill in English Bay a couple of weeks ago.

Certainly, our various and exceptional emergency responders are equipped to provide aid, but in a disaster of the magnitude of indescribable destruction they are resources far too few and far between.

In fact, about all any of us can do is be personally prepared to look after ourselves, with little or no aid, for days and possibly weeks.

That, and a full understanding that on one yet-to-be-determined day, the ground beneath our feet will be immensely cruel, and unfortunately there is absolutely nothing we can do to prevent it.

markrushton@abbynews.com