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After Chile, Oregon prepares for Big One

March 15, 2010: “The Bridge Team’s goal for today was to determine the geographical extent of bridge damage from the Chilean earthquakes. We did this by driving nearly 450 miles south along Route 5 (the Pan American Highway) from Santiago to Temuco, keeping along the outer edge of the zone of strong shaking (about 50 miles or so inland). To put this into Pacific Northwest context, it would be very similar to driving from Seattle to southern Oregon along I-5 after a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake off the Oregon/Washington coast.”
— Blog post from OSU civil and construction engineer Scott Ashford

Ashford visited Chile as a member of the international Chile Earthquake Reconnaissance Team sponsored by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute. The quakes that have devastated Chile and Haiti in recent months, he notes, are reminders that Oregon, too, sits poised for heavy shaking. The Cascadia Subduction Zone shifts abruptly every 300 to 400 years or so, and the next time it does, experts predict destruction and dislocation from the Pacific shoreline inland to Portland and the Willamette Valley. A tsunami could follow in the earthquake’s wake.

To help Oregonians prepare, Oregon Sea Grant outreach specialist Patrick Corcoran is working with coastal communities. “We may have as little as 15 minutes’ warning for a potential tsunami, and the damage from an earthquake could be immediate,” says Corcoran, who coordinates the Coastal Storms Program at OSU. “We all need to be prepared to help ourselves.”

Ashford and Corcoran are among more than a dozen OSU faculty who are sharing their expertise in engineering, geology, communications and marine sciences with Chilean colleagues.

More information on tsunami preparedness is available at OSU Extension.

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