Skip to content
CityLab
Environment

Why You Don't Really Care About the Next 'Big One'

Terrible natural disasters will come someday, but most people have a hard time worrying about stuff that isn’t imminent.
Members of a Los Angeles County search-and-rescue team walk past an upside ship washed ashore by the tsunami in Ofunato, Japan, Tuesday, March 15, 2011.
Members of a Los Angeles County search-and-rescue team walk past an upside ship washed ashore by the tsunami in Ofunato, Japan, Tuesday, March 15, 2011.AP Photo/Matt Dunham

One day, an earthquake anywhere from 8.0 to 9.2 magnitude will rupture along the Cascadia subduction zone. This is the 700-mile convergence of tectonic plates in the Pacific Northwest that scientists were unaware of until recent decades. But, as Kathryn Schulz masterfully details in the New Yorker, it will rupture—quite possibly within the next 50 years.

When it does, some 13,000 people, many likely to be kids at school, are projected to die as a result of the earthquake and the even-more-devastating tsunami it will cause. The cost of recovery is incalculable. The region, which includes Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Eugene, Salem, and Olympia, is woefully unprepared. At least 7 million people will be impacted.