Local seismologists: Oregon, prepare for quake

Wes Thelen, a seismologist at USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, examines data from volcanos that line the Cascades from when the earthquake happened in Anchorage, Alaska Friday. (KATU Photo)

Local seismologists and geologists say the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit Alaska should make people in the Pacific Northwest realize how disastrous the threat of the Big One is for our region.

"We're in earthquake country," said Scott Burns, a geology professor at Portland State University. "Everybody should have a kit at home for the earthquake -- we'll go into camping mode, we'll need water and food to keep you going."

It was an active morning at the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, as seismologist Wes Thelen monitored the activity out of Anchorage.

"You get 10 times more energy release," Thelen said for every increased degree of magnitude. "So that's just the size, but what you also get is a lot longer event, and so it's shaking strong for a very long time."

Because of those factors, Thelen says the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake that the Pacific Northwest is overdue for will be a dramatically stronger earthquake.

Burns says the damage out of Alaska should alarm people, but the situation in the Portland region will likely be worse in large part because the metro area is dramatically more densely populated than Anchorage.

Scientists have known about the threat of earthquakes in Alaska for decades, which has influenced their building codes. Burns says the threat of earthquakes in Oregon is relatively recently discovered, which could amplify the destruction since many structures were built without knowledge of the region's seismic risk.

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