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Scientific research tells us that on Jan. 26, 1700, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake ruptured along a 600 mile long fault, running from Northern California to Southern British Columbia, causing untold damage and destruction to the Pacific Northwest.
For the fourth year in a row, Southwestern Oregon Community College has invited experts to come speak on this matter.
Dr. Daniel Cox, an Engineering Professor at Oregon State University says geologic records show these will occur every 300 to 600 years, which means there's a 14 percent chance of another earthquake within the next 50 years.
His lecture emphases just how devastating a tsunami can be to a coastal community that's not properly prepared.
"It's an event that's definitely going to happen, it's how do you best prepare for it?" said Ron Metzger, a SOCC geology professor. "So how do we make our structures better, locating structures and planning and also just individually being prepared with water, food and those types of supplies as well."
Native American oral histories, passed on for generations, echo this event and speak of a great shaking followed by a massive flood (tsunami) that struck the northwest coast.
In Japan, written records uncovered in the last 15 years confirm the Native American oral histories, documenting an "orphan tsunami" that was spawned by the massive earthquake 309 years ago.
In Oregon, while most people will not be aware of the events that happened 309 years ago this week, state agencies and local governments across Oregon are working to prepare for a natural disaster of unprecedented magnitude that could strike at any time.
"We now have a geologic record of these great offshore earthquakes going back about 10,000 years," said James Roddey, Earth Sciences Information Officer with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries. "We know they occur about every 300 to 600 years, so we're within the window for another one to strike."
Oregon coastal towns are the most vulnerable to a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake because of the devastating tsunami the earthquake generates as it ruptures the ocean floor. That's why coastal communities from Brookings to Astoria are making emergency plans and continue to practice evacuation drills to help those living and working in the tsunami inundation zone - that area where ocean waves would push inland.
"Like the Native Americans who have passed on myths and historic narratives of these great earthquakes and tsunamis of the past, it's our turn, in fact an imperative, to begin creating a culture of awareness for Oregonians today," said Roddey. "We're the first generation in modern history that understands the risks and dangers of a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake."
Beginning this year, many individuals and organizations from all walks of life are working to make this anniversary a yearly observation, including Althea Turner, Geologic Hazards Program Coordinator with Oregon Emergency Management and Patrick Corcoran, Hazards Outreach Specialist with OSU Sea Grant Extension.
"We have but to look at the earthquake and tsunami that devastated countries around the Indian Ocean in 2004 (a magnitude 9.3 subduction zone earthquake) to know how important it is to begin creating an ongoing, generational dialog about this geologic event that, when it happens, will affect everyone in the Pacific Northwest. One way we hope to do this is to make this day a yearly observance that everyone will be aware of," said Roddey.