Seattle’s shores could be buried under 20 feet of water in future tsunamis and earthquakes

A future large earthquake centered under Seattle’s Puget Sound could trigger a tsunami that would bury the waterfront under 20 feet of water for hours, according to a new study released Thursday by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

The study shows the possible consequences of a tsunami triggered by a magnitude 7.5 earthquake along the Seattle Fault Zone, which traverses Puget Sound and downtown Seattle east and west.

Scientists say those along the waterfront and islands around Seattle would only have about three minutes after the quake before the tsunami would hit. Waves could reach 42 feet along the waterfront in downtown Seattle near the Great Wheel, with floods several feet deep eventually inundating Lumen Field and T-Mobile Park, home of the Seattle Seahawks and Mariners, respectively.

The flooding would last up to three hours and keep the water up to 20 feet deep, the study said. Flood water rippled up and down the inland sea, inundating Tacoma — 30 miles south — in under 6 feet of water up to three miles inland.

Experts say the last known Seattle Fault earthquake was about 1,100 years ago. Geological evidence shows that it was strong enough to push up the beach at Restoration Point on Bainbridge Island by 23 feet while lowering the land at Seattle’s West Point by three feet, according to the DNR. If another earthquake occurs, the study suggests that land level changes could create an entirely new shoreline in many locations near the Seattle Fault Zone.

Despite the large time gap since the last earthquake, scientists say another earthquake is still possible. Geological evidence shows that there have been five other earthquakes averaging magnitude 6.5 in the Seattle Fault Zone in the past 3,500 years.

“While the likelihood of this happening in our lifetime is slim, it’s important that families prepare now,” Maximilian Dixon, director of the Washington Emergency Management Division’s threat and outreach program, said in a news release the study was announced. “The ground tremor will be your warning that a tsunami may be on the way. Make sure you know where the nearest hill is and the quickest way to get there. Sign up for tsunami and local alerts.”

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell says studies like these are a crucial tool for the city to understand risk and prepare for future emergencies.

However, emergency officials acknowledge that the study’s results “can be scary,” but stress that the study used a “maximum accounted for event,” meaning there is a low probability of it occurring.

“That sounds justifiably terrifying. We get it. This earthquake could happen before an alarm reaches your phone,” Washington Department of Emergency Management officials said. “If you feel an earthquake, drop, cover and hold on, then evacuate to high ground and get as far inland as possible as quickly as possible.” Seattle’s shores could be buried under 20 feet of water in future tsunamis and earthquakes


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