The Big-Shake, Big-Wave Theory
See how a megaquake would shake out in the Pacific Northwest
The worst is over for Seattle and Portland. But in the beach towns, the countdown has begun. A tsunami that will inundate the coastline is now about 35 miles offshore. It will reach dry land in a little more than 15 minutes. There are 7,500 people in the inundation zone in Ocean Shores. Seaside: 15,000. Cannon Beach: 7,800.
Take the advice on the T-shirt. Grab beer. Run like hell.
The beach at Seaside is one of the glories of the Oregon coast. It’s flat, wide, vanilla-gray, and gorgeous. The lifeguards continue to herd swimmers and sunbathers away, but some are unconvinced. They don’t hear the tsunami sirens, or, having been through tests of the sirens in the past, ignore them.11 “This is no joke,” one tells a visitor. “You need to move. Now.” Move where? people ask. “Walk up Broadway,” the lifeguard says, “and don’t stop until you’re at the top of a hill!”
The walk to Broadway takes three minutes. At this point the beachgoers are faced with a life-or-death decision. A crowd has formed at the doors to the Wyndham resort, an eight-story beachside hotel-and-condo complex. People are shouting and pushing their way through the doors, calling out for family members.
Hard data has never been more valuable to these people. “Is it tall enough?” one person wonders aloud. “Will it stand?” another asks. The Wyndham’s windows are all shattered, but otherwise it looks structurally sound. It’s a long half-mile trek to high ground, with two bridges to cross. Rumors ricochet around the crowd: The bridge is down! No, it’s standing! Both pieces of information are true. There are seven critical bridges in Seaside. Some have survived the earthquake, some haven’t. The manager of the Wyndham appeals for calm. He’s old enough to recall the Who concert, Cincinnati, 1980, the killing crush of crowds and doors. He makes an appeal: Those who can walk should walk—Wyndham staff are already leading guests to high ground.
“How far is it?” someone asks. “Half a mile,” the manager says. “Oh, Lord, I’d never make it,” says an elderly woman in a pink T-shirt. “I can’t walk that far.”
For the beachgoers, two precious minutes are wasted mulling over the best strategy. A general culling takes place. The firm and the fleet decide to keep walking. The elderly, the broken-down, the obese, the calculating, and the stubborn file into the Wyndham. Nobody has told them that the citywide power outage has knocked the elevators out of commission. The crowd slowly trudges up eight flights of stairs. Strong men and women, strangers, band together in teams to carry the elderly and disabled up to the roof.
11. In Japanese coastal towns, that’s exactly what happened in March. A tsunami alarm a few months earlier had sent locals scurrying for high ground. The water came in like a lamb, less than a meter high.