‘Be prepared’: Earthquake in Japan serves as reminder of Vancouver Island’s seismic activity

CHEK

A devastating earthquake off the coast of Japan serves as a reminder of the ongoing seismic activity around Vancouver Island, according to experts.

A 7.6 magnitude quake hit the country on New Year’s Day.

“It was a relatively shallow earthquake kind of just off the west coast of Japan,” Tiegan Hobbs, Geological Survey of Canada research scientist, said.

As those communities deal with the aftermath of broken roads and structural damage, some may wonder what a similar event would look like in the Island’s seismic zone.

John Cassidy, an earthquake seismologist with Natural Resources Canada, said you only have to look back 77 years when a 7.3 magnitude quake shook the Island in 1946.

“It was very strong and damaging across central Vancouver Island. It was felt quite strongly in Victoria and Vancouver. Some minor damage and some landslides,” Cassidy explained.

He added that the makeup of the tectonic plates near Japan is very similar to the ones around B.C.’s west coast, meaning if the same earthquake were to strike off the Island’s coastline, there would likely be similar damage.

“Modern buildings that are designed for earthquakes do very well, and older buildings, especially brick buildings, are the ones most susceptible to earthquake damage. Chimneys coming down, windows breaking.” Cassidy said.

A new online earthquake risk profiler created by the federal government explores earthquake scenarios.

According to the website, the strongest ground-shaking event would hit the Greater Victoria region if a 7.2 magnitude quake struck on the Leech River Fault, south of the Island.

It predicts it would cause 990 deaths and damage 6,900 buildings.

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(The Federal RiskProfiler website outlines a potential 7.3 magnitude earthquake scenario.)

Hearing about earthquakes throughout the Pacific Ocean area seems to always bring up questions about when a predicted big quake will hit the Island.

Cassidy said residents need to remember that just because an earthquake happened somewhere else doesn’t mean it will trigger one here.

“There’s nothing that would tell us an earthquake is about to happen,” Cassidy explained. “We do know any earthquake has a small chance of being followed by a large earthquake, but it’s about a five per cent chance. Which means a 95 per cent chance it won’t be followed by a large earthquake.”

He said it instead serves as a reminder that the region is a seismically active area with small earthquakes happening every day.

Hobbs told CHEK News everybody should have an emergency kit and communication plan ready in case a damaging quake strikes.

“You can also put together a ‘go bag,’ which is sort of all the essentials if your house were no longer safe and you needed to leave really quickly, you have all the essentials in one place,” Hobbs said.

The government will also be launching an early earthquake warning system in the spring.

“Like they have in Japan, will provide seconds to perhaps a minute or so of warning before strong shaking arrives,” Cassidy explained. “So after the earthquake has occurred but before the strong shaking arrives in our communities.”

RELATED STORY: Study identifies new active earthquake fault line in Saanich

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