Wednesday, May 09, 2012

We are not ready in the least for the "Big One"

More thoughts on the day after the household drill.

The earthquake we need to prepare that will hit us within the lifetime of anyone still in school will be huge.  The earthquake that hit Christchurch New Zealand  on February 21st last year was a M6.3.   We are looking at something around a M9.0 with a tsunami.   The coming earthquake will be more than 100 times larger than the Christchurch earthquake.

I am realizing that one of the big things in houses is going to be huge amounts of mess.   There will be broken glass and debris everywhere in the house.    Our primary work in the first couple of days is going to be just getting our homes cleaned of broken stuff.

Here is a comment from Adrian Dolling on Facebook to me
 Mapping Christchurch onto Victoria - think of a fence along Superior from the harbour to Vancouver, up to Hillside, down to the harbour. Then add severe damage to most of the buildings inside that area. Then condemn 1200 of the buildings, including most of the multi-storey buildings, the cathedral, many older churches, shopping centres, etc... The NZ population is comparable to BC's, and they have been saving to an earthquake recovery fund for many decades. That fund has been exhausted by the recovery efforts in Christchurch - the damage was about 15% of the national GDP. About 15% of the population have migrated away - a significant influx of migrant prfoject managers, building assessors, and construction staff replacing them. Prescription drug data suggests a big rise in anti-anxiety meds, replace six months later by anti-depressants. Many residents had to put their kitchens back into the cupboards several times as the swarm of quakes made its way from west to east below the city over an 18 month period. For Bernard's kitchen, simple closing devices on the cupboard doors would be sufficient. We were struck by Victoria's apparent lack of preparation for anything beyond the initial quake. We need rebuild plans - barely a mention in the brand spanking new Official Community Plan, even though an earthquake is identified as one of our regions biggest risks. I could go on...
When one looks at the minor M6.3 earthquake in Christchurch and the M9.0 one in Japan and considers these two countries are much, much better prepared than we are for an earthquake, we can make some reasonable assumptions of what will happen here.

In Victoria we should expect to see:

  • 500 to 1000 deaths, though if it happens in the middle of the work day this could be higher
  • All the bridges over the Gorge damaged or collapsed
  • Almost every building in downtown, old and new damaged beyond repair
  • The Empress and Legislature will be damaged beyond repair
  • The highway overpasses on #1 and #17 will most likely damaged and blocking the road
  • The hospitals will likely be out of service - in Japan 
  • Power, water and natural gas will not only be gone, the services may not be unavailable for months, not days or weeks.  In the Sendai earthquake, in a country that has prepared much better for earthquakes a quarter million homes had no power a month after the earthquake
  • Large parts of the city cordoned off for several years - in Christchurch the core of the city is still closed 15 months after the main earthquake

At the same time:

  • Vancouver will be as damaged with most of their bridges out and the harbour destroyed, Vancouver will also be the national focus and it will be the international focus together with Seattle.   Victoria will not be a priority.
  • Seattle will be as damaged

We need to be ready to:

  • Find new housing for 100,000 locally and likely more than 1,000,000 in BC - look at the impact of the hurricane on New Orleans which was a much smaller natural disaster.  BC could end up losing 20% to 30% of its population to out migration.
  • For an infrastructure bill for the province of more than $40,000,000,000
  • For private losses of more than $200,000,000,000 in BC
  • Bulldoze the core of Victoria so that it can be rebuilt, an effort that will take decades to complete.   The recovery of Berlin after 1945 are the terms we need to thinking of for Victoria.
  • Relocate the complete provincial government  to somewhere like Prince George for several years
Are we ready?   Not at all.   In my house we could handle a week to several weeks, but that is it.   We can not last indefinitely in a destroyed Victoria.  I suspect after the initial disaster we will end up having to move to somewhere else in Canada to start our lives anew.


Steve Filipovic said...

I would get started soon Bernard, save yourself! I think you are going a little overboard in your model on the damage factor. We all live in stick frame houses, which are very flexible and hopefully quake bolted on. Hint hint! I would think no one would die, unless maybe they were lowering a piano down a tricky flight of stairs at the time. Buildings in town would get damaged and cracked, but re-enforced concrete walls don't fall apart, though the may crack. Our building codes are much more stringent than those in Armenia.

Bernard said...

Single family homes are the ones I expect to do well. It is the multi-story buildings in Victoria that concern me, those before the 1980s were not really designed for earthquakes and those since then are not designed to withstand the sort of earthquake we are expecting here. Do not forget this is the place where people could not build a basic condo without it being leaky. If that is quality of what we can expect of construction in the 1980s and 90s, we are in real trouble.

Meanwhile if you look at New Zealand and Japan, places that have thought a lot more about earthquakes and prepared better, we would be lucky to do as well as they but based on our prep we should expect to do significantly worse.

David Bratzer said...

The loss of life could be quite bad, Steve. Just consider one building - View Towers at 1147 Quadra St. It's eighteen storeys, 300+ units, no sprinkler system, with a building code from the 1970's.