RUSHTON: The potential exists for devastation here

What seems to be endless rain and a spring that never arrives have been driving me crazy lately. Thanks to my puppy I have been out in rain, snow, sleet and hail while encouraging him to always take care of his bodily functions outside. Factor in a companion geriatric dog who is reluctant to face inclement weather, and the frustration of standing on the deck begging one to exit while keeping the other from running in and out, takes swearing to new heights.

What seems to be endless rain and a spring that never arrives have been driving me crazy lately. Thanks to my puppy I have been out in rain, snow, sleet and hail while encouraging him to always take care of his bodily functions outside. Factor in a companion geriatric dog who is reluctant to face inclement weather, and the frustration of standing on the deck begging one to exit while keeping the other from running in and out, takes swearing to new heights.

Oh yeah, life is tough, until it is compared with the horrific tsunami that devastated Japan. Never – not Banda Aceh or Hurricane Katrina – has the world viewed in such incredible detail, the destruction wrought by water.

Japan, one of the most sophisticated and wealthiest countries in the world, has been brought to its knees by this cataclysmic event. Yet, knowing the spirit of the Japanese, they will overcome the horrors and rebound with strength.

The power of the water roaring through towns and cities was unimaginable, consuming everything in its path. To see a clip taken from a helicopter, what appeared to be a magnificently beautiful wave, a perfectly straight line of white surf steamrollering across the ocean, the sea receding hundreds of meters from shore to feed the oncoming juggernaut was stunning. Then to watch it follow a previous wave that had already dealt death and destruction was, without a doubt, one of the most chilling and frightening things I have witnessed, albeit from my living room armchair.

For a country that has the resources, the knowledge and preparedness in place for mitigation of earthquake and tsunami damage, the destruction is almost incomprehensible.

What then, will happen to areas like the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, where woefully little has been achieved in preparation for “the big one” that is sure to come?

Despite the suggestion that Vancouver Island acts as a ‘breakwater’ for a tsunami, it will only if the wave is generated well offshore and to the south of us. If a subduction/uplifting of the earth’s crust happens just a little northwest of Victoria, the ‘breakwater’ will have the opposite effect, funneling the tsunami down the Strait of Juan de Fuca, filling the Salish Sea (Georgia Strait) and spilling over the inadequate barrier dikes of Delta, Richmond and Surrey.

I’d also guess that a substantial flow would shoot up the Fraser River and inundate areas on both sides including much of the farmland in the lower reaches of the Valley.

Won’t happen here? It did in 1964, when a Richter 9 quake occurred in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, and a tsunami swept up the Alberni Canal some 40 miles, to flood with devastating effect the city of Port Alberni. So much for the ‘breakwater’ defence.

In Sendai, which appeared to be one of the cities bearing the brunt of the tidal surge, the residents had 30 minutes between the major quake and the wave. How much warning would we get here and where would the people in low-lying areas go? Ever try to get out of Richmond at rush hour?

I don’t believe anything can prevent a tsunami the size of the one that hit Japan, from wreaking havoc on the Lower Mainland’s floodplain.

And short of believing that it won’t happen soon, what can we do individually to prepare for a major earthquake? We are told to gather together emergency supplies, but if we store them in the house, and it falls down or gets washed away, not much good will come of that.

So, do we continue to live in bliss or live in worry? Give me bliss (it doesn’t hurt that I live on a mountain) and the confidence that should I survive the initial event, I’ll survive the rest.

Our governments, federal and provincial, however can’t afford the (perhaps naïve) luxury of blissful ignorance. We live on the ‘Ring of Fire’ and our economic and human strength depend on preparedness and all reasonable steps taken to mitigate the potential for the devastation that has so rocked the people and nation of Japan.

 

markrushton@abbynews.com