Opinion » Editorial


Our turn is coming



It's hard not to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of Japan's earthquake disaster.

And it comes on the heels of a devastating earthquake in New Zealand, which in turn came on the heels of the floods in Australia.

The offshore quake that struck at 2:46 p.m. local time Friday was the biggest to hit Japan since record-keeping began in the late 1800s. It ranked as the fifth-largest earthquake in the world since 1900 and was nearly 8,000 times stronger than one that devastated Christchurch, New Zealand, last month, scientists said.

And, as with all events that affect people, I have no doubt that Whistler will reach out in its own way to help. An international destination, this community is also a melting pot gathering people from all walks of life and from many places in the world.

We've never seen images such as those of the murderous 33-foot high tsunami, its wall of water moving across the coastline of northeast Japan eradicating buildings, tossing vehicles and trains as if they were toys, destroying lives.

The final death toll from the 9.0 magnitude earthquake will likely not be known for weeks. As I write this I'm waiting for good news about the family members of corridor friends. Facebook is full of good wishes, hope, but also despair.

It's impossible not to think about an earthquake of that size hitting here. Would Tofino, a popular place for Whistlerites to escape to, survive?

Is 15 minutes enough time to flee from a devastating tsunami on the westcoast of Vancouver Island - that's all the time the people of Sendai had to get away - to realize the quake might be over but the danger wasn't.

Was it enough time for a mother to get her child from school and escape, enough time for a son to help his elderly mother?

The entire Pacific region is lined with subduction zones and like Japan, B.C. rests on one - the Cascadia.

What happened in Japan could easily happen here.

John Clague, a professor of earth sciences at Simon Fraser University, told The Province newspaper, "We can't predict when the next one will occur.... But I would say that they are inevitable..."

And, said Clague, like Japan, residents of B.C.'s coast would have about 15 minutes to escape a tsunami.

Exactly seven years ago I wrote a feature for Pique on the natural hazards in the Sea to Sky Corridor - it's a story I have never forgotten.

I think about it every time I drive the highway between Squamish and Vancouver because that stretch of road would be littered with landslides in a quake. I think about it as I pass the Barrier at Garibaldi - even though its last big slide was in 1855-56. That sent 25 million cubic metres of material hurtling down Rubble Creek at 70 kilometres an hour. That's enough debris to bury Whistler.

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