Old house vs. earthquakes

March 10, 2010

I’ve been thinking of “The Big One.” Long before earthquakes devastated Haiti and then Chile, I wanted to have our 1920s Craftsman house bolted to its foundation with steel plates. That’s enough protection to qualify for earthquake insurance.

The work begins tomorrow, ten months after I arranged for an estimate. Waiting until my wife and I could afford the work was a gamble, considering that scientists believe an earthquake of up to 9.0 magnitude off the Oregon Coast is inevitable within the next 50 years.

The last such quake in the Cascadia Fault, 310 years ago when the indigenous people sparsely populated the region, triggered widespread devastation. There are also three faults beneath Portland — one only a few blocks from our house — capable of delivering quakes of 6.5 magnitude or greater. Talk about Ground Zero.

When we moved to Portland from Florida a decade ago, people often asked us about hurricanes. The general theme was “it must have been awful.” What’s much worse is having no warning, no chance to escape the ground shaking so violently that buildings and bridges collapse. The Chilean quake moved one city eight feet. The last “Big One” in Oregon shifted the coast some 50 feet west.

We want our house to stay in one place. Not that tomorrow’s work, by the fellow in the video below, is any guarantee. But it’s a bet worth making.

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