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'Thousands will be killed or injured and Oregon will suffer $32 billion in damage'

EUGENE, Ore. - The shaking started around 9 p.m. on Janaury 26 and lasted for 5 minutes - or longer.

The coastline of northern California, Oregon and Washington suddenly dropped 3 to 6 feet.

Flooded with salty seawater, the trees on that vast stretch of land died.

The massive force created by a 600-mile rupture along a fault beneath the Pacific Ocean sent a tsunami rippling across the ocean.

Without warning, the wave struck the coast of Japan around midnight on January 27.

The year was 1700.

The culprit: the most recent 9.0 Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.

The forecast: it's going to happen again.

The 2013 Oregon Resiliency Plan pegs the likelihood of another quake impacting the entire Northwest in the next 50 years at 7 to 15 percent. The odds of a very large quake affecting southern Oregon and north California runs 37 percent.

More recent research has found the massive quakes may happen with even greater frequency than that.

Bottom line: "The likelihood of a M 9 Cascadia earthquake during our lifetimes and the consequences of such an earthquake are both so great that it is prudent to consider this type of earthquake when designing new structures or retrofit of existing structures, evaluating the seismic safety of existing structures, or planning emergency response and preparedness," according to the Oregon plan.

On Tuesday, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, introduced the Pacific Northwest Earthquake Preparedness Act of 2017.

"If an earthquake of a similar magnitude hit today, the State of Oregon estimates that thousands will be killed or injured and Oregon will suffer $32 billion in economic damages," DeFazio said. "My legislation directs FEMA to identify critical funding to purchase and install an earthquake early warning system that could save thousands of lives, countless injuries, and billions of dollars of damage. It also directs the President to establish an Earthquake and Tsunami Task Force that will develop a strategy to better protect and prepare for major earthquakes and tsunamis on the Cascadia Subduction Zone that could devastate our coastlines. We must take the threat of a catastrophic earthquake seriously, and this legislation is a good first step."

DeFazio's office said the legislation would require FEMA to develop a plan and identify the necessary funding for purchase and installation of an earthquake early warning system for the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

The legislation would also allow FEMA to use hazard mitigation funds to improve the earthquake early warning system.

“Cascadia poses a unique threat," Doug Toomey, University of Oregon Earth Sciences professor, said in a statement. "'Congressman DeFazio's legislation recognizes that the 'Sleeping Giant' requires an offshore/onshore monitoring system like the one Japan has developed. It would give scientists and the public necessary information that will make us safer and more resilient."

Toomey took part in a summit in Washington, D.C., last year on developing an early warning system.

"So for example if that fault begins to rupture in Southern Cascadia and generates a magnitude 9 that goes from south to north, Portland could receive about 3 minutes of warning before strong shaking arrives," Toomey said at the time. "Three minutes is quite a long time for people to find a safer place to duck, cover and hold."

The Oregon Office of Emergency Management said citizens need to be prepared in the event of a massive earthquake. The state has coordinated "Great Shakeout" and "Cascadia Rising" events to practice the response to just such a quake.

What to do in the first two minutes?

- Drop, cover and hold on

- Stay in place until the shaking stops; be prepared for aftershocks

What to do in the first two hours?

- Check immediate surroundings for anyone injured and in need of help

- Evacuate, if necessary; if out of your home, determine if it is safe to enter

- Follow your family communication plan (communicate with your out-of-state contact)

What do you do in the first two days?

- Use resources in your preparedness supplies as needed

- Check with neighbors/community members to determine who has what skills/resources, and work together to make sure everyone is safe and comfortable

What do you do in the first two weeks?

- Add/replace necessary items to your emergency kit(s).

- Organize community members to assist with disaster recovery in your neighborhood

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