On Shaky Ground

With tremor storms on Vancouver Island heading our way and increased concern over the overdue Big One, I’m revisiting my first NaNoWriMo novel project (2006). Time to finish that draft before the end of the Mayan calendar? Here’s the prolog:

If Seattleites thought things couldn’t get worse after that first tremor on Saturday night of Labor Day weekend, 2020- a nice meaty 8.8 – they learned better after the third quake. Half of the city was destroyed outright, the fill it had been built on turning to mud jelly. The infrastructure collapsed like an egg crate under an eighteen-wheeler. The first major structure to take a header into the bay was the hundreds year old Pike Place Market. Then the Alaska Way Tunnel collapsed, much to the embarrassment of the team of engineers that had pushed for decades to have it built. The power grid blinked out in seconds, to stay dark for the next two months. Thousands died the first half an hour. By the end of day two the grim count was up over two hundred thousand in the Seattle metro area alone.
The seismic center at the University of Washington – what was left of it – calculated that the epicenter was half a mile off the north shore of Bainbridge Island, on the huge Seattle fault line. For two hundred years since the last major quake the Seattle fault had been building up pressure, preparing for The Big One. When it finally cut loose the resulting quake was felt from Anchorage Alaska to San Diego California. Then, beyond anyone’s calculation or imagination things really got bad.
Geologists will probably continue to argue as to what went wrong. Maybe some previously undetected flaw popped in the Olympic Peninsula subduction zone. Or pressure from the Juan de Fuca plate collapsed a weakened seam in the bedrock. Or . . . well, who knows? And ultimately it hardly matters any more since the damage has been done.
What is known is that deep beneath Hood Canal, an arm of Puget Sound that runs down the left hand side of Bainbridge Island, a fissure opened about the same time as the first major shock. Whether it was the cause of the quake or the effect of it is open to speculation. Had it occurred under a landmass it might have gone undetected except for perhaps some subsidence when conditions were right. As it was, all of Puget Sound pressed down upon it. At some point during the first two days the gigantic volume of water on the surface made inroads through the rock, found its opportunity and filled the void. And the magnitude of the entire Pacific Ocean followed it in, spreading the fissure wide, ripping a trough down the coast through the State Capital of Olympia, roughly following Interstate 5 until it spewed out the mouth of the Columbia River at Portland Oregon.
It all happened so fast. On that, everyone could agree. There never would have been time to initiate evacuations even if the communications networks had still been operational. Even if there had been intact evacuation routes. Which there were not. By the end of the week the communities of Olympia, Centralia, Chehalis, Castle Rock, Kelso, and Longview were utterly gone, washed down the channel of the fissure and out into the Pacific. Half of Portland washed away with it. Farms, buildings, people, dreams and aspirations just so much flotsam on the tide. Now between what had been for eons the Olympic Peninsula and the rest of Washington State there stretched a five to ten mile wide channel. The Olympic Peninsula and Southwestern Washington had become in the space of a week a huge, roughly triangular shaped island approximately the size of Ireland.
From that point on the fate of the brand new island and its residents was, of grim necessity, very little concern to “mainlanders”. Disaster aid from the federal government and charities such as Mercy Corps and Red Cross was earmarked for the major population centers around Seattle and Bellevue, not the comparatively sparsely populated island to the west. Even if there had been enough aid to go around, getting it to the island would have been next to impossible. There were no airports long enough for transport planes. No docks that could handle freighters. Even Seattle was a challenge with its rail lines torn up and its two airports in rubble. If the islanders were to survive, they were on their own.

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