Energy & Environment

Tsunami would crash into shore within minutes of major Seattle-area earthquake: study

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A major earthquake on the Seattle Fault could cause tsunami waves as high as 42 feet to crash into Seattle shorelines within minutes, according to a new government-produced study. 

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources study found that tsunami waves would reach the shoreline in fewer than three minutes along the fault line in places like Bainbridge Island, Elliott Bay and Alki Point.

The Seattle Fault, which runs east to west, crosses downtown Seattle and the Puget Sound. The fault line has produced several earthquakes throughout the region, although the most recent quake occurred about 1,100 years ago, the state agency said. 

When announcing the study results, officials stressed that the chance of the models coming true during current residents’ lifetimes is low, but they argued residents should still be aware of how to respond given the dramatic fallout of such a disaster.

“Most often, when we think of tsunamis, we think of our outer coast and communities along the Pacific Ocean,” said Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz. 

“But there’s a long history of earthquakes on faults in the Puget Sound,” she added. “While the history of earthquakes and tsunamis along the Seattle Fault is less frequent than the Cascadia subduction zone, the impacts could be massive. That’s why it’s critical these communities have the information they need to prepare and respond.”

In one simulation of a 7.5-magnitude earthquake, the group’s models show tsunami waves could be as high as 42 feet at the Seattle Great Wheel, which is located in the downtown area of the city along the shoreline.

“We will continue to ensure our Office of Emergency Management — and all our departments — are best equipped to respond to emergencies and natural disasters, while we also strengthen our infrastructure and build a resilient city now and for the future,” said Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell.

The tsunami waves could make their way inland for more than three hours following a major earthquake, according to the study, which did not account for tide stages.

“The ground shaking will be your warning that a tsunami may be on the way,” said Maximilian Dixon, hazards and outreach program supervisor for the state’s emergency management division.

“Make sure you know where the closest high ground is and the quickest route to get there. Get signed up for tsunami and local alerts.”

Tags earthquake Seattle tsunami Washington
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