Shaky Days Ahead

“Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.” Kenneth Murphy, FEMA director for Region X, which includes Washington State.

Kenneth “Chuckles” Murphy was quoted above in a recent New Yorker article detailing what will happen when a huge earthquake—and then tsunami—hits our area. It is all so scary that it’s probably best to just give up. Reading.

Despite modern science, predicting earthquakes seems little more precise than picking the ponies. Yet, there are plenty of experts who think “the big one” could happen around here at any time—perhaps right in the middle of this paragraph.

Of course, if the “big one” HAD happened in the middle of that last paragraph, you would not likely still be reading this one. So far, so good.

If there is a book of earthquake jokes, it must be as thin as a flour tortilla. Still, one of the earliest routines I can remember as a kid is seeing the old-time comic Red Skelton doing a bit about a drunk guy walking down the street—staggering around and nearly falling down. Then Skelton said, “Now, here’s that same drunk walking down the street during an earthquake.” He walked normally.

During a real earthquake of course, the only happy person might be the lazy kid at the Sherwin-William’s store tasked with shaking cans of paint—his job suddenly done for him.

I’d feel bad for anybody on the verge of winning a game of chess or “Jenga”—or who had just spent long hours putting an Etch-a-Sketch drawing together.
And I certainly wouldn’t want to be a hemophiliac standing in J.F. Henry’s cutlery department during a major temblor.

Referring back to Mr. Murphy’s “assumption” at the beginning of this column—West Seattle and environs, being indeed west of Interstate 5, would not only be toast—but scrambled eggs and dead meat too.
The place would become a geographic Grand Slam Breakfast.

There is only one thing for a West Seattleite to do: Move to the east side of the freeway. Maybe a nice place on Beacon or Capitol Hills? It wouldn’t hurt to start looking.

Scientists explain that 80 percent of earthquakes in the world happen in this neck of the planet—around the rim of the Pacific Ocean—the so-called “Ring of Fire.” Johnny Cash explains it more fully here:

Think of the earth’s crust as consisting of moving plates—similar to the kind circus performers would spin on The Ed Sullivan Show. Again, another instructional film:

The tectonic plates of the earth, when shoved together, crack the earth’s crust and make things standing upon it—i.e., you, me and buildings such as “Spud ” on Alki—as shaky as the Greek economy.

At least that is what modern-day seismologists believe. Through time, there have been other theories:
1) In ancient Greece it was believed that Poseidon, god of the sea, would occasionally get angry (like Mariner fans).

In such cases, Poseidon would strike the ground violently with his trident—and cause earthquakes. It was the beginning of the anti-trident movement in Old Greece, leading to the oft-quoted counter-argument: “When tridents are outlawed, only gods will have tridents.”

2) In Japanese mythology, earthquakes are caused by a giant catfish. That, of course, is absurd. Everyone knows Godzilla defeated that giant catfish some years ago.

3) Hindu mythology held a different explanation: The earth is held in place by eight giant elephants—all of which are balanced on the back of a turtle—which is itself standing on the coils of a snake. When anyone of them shifts around, an earthquake results. Of all the world’s explanations for earthquakes, this one seems most plausible to me. When I’m really snockered.

It’s not the big earthquake that’s dangerous to contemplate here in the Northwest—but the tidal waves, avalanches and landslides that may come after. Yet, it’s hard to find many local residents who are thinking much about it. We tend to spend more time planning for Seahawks parties than we do cataclysms—and actually welcome seismic events when they are Lynch-caused.

Yet, experts like Kenneth Murphy warn that we all need to get serious and formulate emergency plans. In fact, I heard one expert say, “Your pets need a plan as well.”

No need to tell my dog. He’s been diligent—burying bones and stockpiling balls and sticks.
And he seems instinctively to know that—earthquake or not—being around tsunami-prone bathwater is something to avoid at all costs.