Natural Disasters in Our Own Backyard

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library - Central Library

Natural Disasters in Our Own Backyard

Cascadia We had quite the week here in the Washington, D.C., area – a double whammy of last Tuesday’s 5.9 earthquake and then Saturday’s slam from Hurricane Irene.   Hurricanes are not unknown in this part of the United States during the late summer/early fall, but earthquakes are another story!

 I had just started reading Jerry Thompson’s Cascadia’s Fault: The Coming Earthquake and Tsunami that Could Devastate North America  two days before last week’s earthquake and woke up that Tuesday morning to hear of a 5.3 earthquake in southwestern Colorado, so earthquakes were on my mind. What a shock (literally!) to experience an earthquake here in Washington, D.C., later that day.


(Photo taken outside of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library immediately after the earthquake)

Thompson’s Cascadia’s Fault, an absorbing read, examines the Cascadia Subduction Zone that runs 1,000 kilometers along the Pacific coast from Vancouver Island down to the northern California coastline and the impending earthquake and tsunami that could occur there anytime over the next 200 years. Thompson goes into great detail chronicling the discovery of the zone, recent similar type earthquakes such as the one off Sumatra in 2004 and this year’s devastating quake off the coast of northeastern Japan.  Thompson provides a good background summary of the scientific community’s growing knowledge of seismology, and he details the catastrophic effects that a mega-quake and tsunami would have on the Pacific Northwest region. Not all doom and gloom, Thompson concludes his book noting that education and preparedness will be the key to survival and resilience.

Fans of the subgenre known as micro-history, as well as books on natural disasters, will enjoy these other reads:  Simon Winchester’s A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, Erik Larson’s Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History and Bruce Parker's The Power of the Sea: Tsunamis, Storm Surges, Rogue Waves, and Our Quest to Predict Disasters 

--Shawn McDermott