The Big-Shake, Big-Wave Theory
See how a megaquake would shake out in the Pacific Northwest
One- and two-story buildings groan. The water is reaching their rooflines and twisting their foundations. Some begin to lift and float up Broadway.
“Seals!” someone shouts. True. There are seals swimming up Broadway alongside the bobbing SUVs. The 75-year-old Seaside Aquarium, a several-story wooden building, did not survive the initial earthquake. Two of its harbor seals were crushed by falling debris. Two others were killed by the onrushing tsunami. The survivors now swim around the drowned town, confused by the water’s darkness, its oily taste and smell.
The water keeps rising. It has overtaken the third floor of the Shilo Inn.
In Cannon Beach, the tsunami swallows up half of Haystack Rock and rushes up to the steps of City Hall. In Ocean Shores, anybody who hasn’t gotten out yet won’t. A few holdouts take refuge in another Shilo Inn,14 at four stories the tallest building in town. It’s not tall enough, as its staff have warned those who stay behind. The ocean has now entirely overtaken Ocean Shores.
In Seaside, the crowd atop the Wyndham watches in horror as the water overtops the Shilo Inn across the street. People on rooftops leap into the water and attempt to swim to the Wyndham. But tsunami water is thick with sediment, wood, metal, and glass. It’s difficult to move in. Gas fumes from broken lines make it hard to breathe. Many who try to swim drown. Those who cling to floating objects have a better chance of survival.
People in Seattle and Portland—those who have power and whose cellular networks are still functioning—watch live footage of the tsunami on their smartphones, shot by news helicopters. They wonder if it will hit the cities.
It probably won’t. To reach Portland, the tsunami would have to muscle its way up 75 miles of the Columbia River and hang a hard right at the Willamette River. Seattle is similarly protected by the topography of Puget Sound. The tsunami will likely slosh up the sides of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and expend its residual energy on the western shore of rural, sparsely populated Whidbey Island.
14. I’m not picking on the Shilo Inn company, which has 40 convenient locations in 10 western states. They just happen to site some of their hotels on prime oceanfront property. Those beachside resorts are big enough to lure panicked tsunami evacuees but often not tall enough to provide refuge from the flood. Guests would be evacuated.