Due to a social engagement later in the day, we didn't have time for a paddle this morning, so Louise and I walked down to the bottom of our hill and for a quick walk on the path alongside our local kayaking spot, The Gorge. As we walked along this calm salt-water inlet, it was difficult to imagine a raging wall of water storming up these banks, or to come up with words other than astonishing, terrifying and heartbreaking for what has transpired in Japan over the last ten days.
I can't imagine waves like that washing over my city, and yet my city lives with the reality that that very thing may happen here on any given day.
Most scientists believe that Victoria, Vancouver and the Georgia Basin are not in danger from a trans-ocean tsunami caused by an earthquake across the sea, but they also believe that this area is also overdue for a major subduction quake similar to the one that struck Japan. A major subduction quake occurred along a 1000 kilometre section of the fault on January 26, 1700 from mid-Vancouver Island to California, producing an earthquake similar in magnitude to the Japanese quake with slippage in some places of 20 metres or more, and creating a large tsunami that washed away native villages along the west coast of North America from California to Alaska.
This was on my mind as we walked on the Gorge this morning, not just from the spectre of the images from Japan, but because if a tsunami was to strike, it would roll right up here. And here is where I live.
Well, not right here in the middle of the water obviously, but about halfway up this hill.
Local disaster planners believe that the surrounding geography would limit the height of any tsunami striking Victoria to about 4 metres. That means that it would enter the harbour downtown and funnel into The Gorge waterway at its far end, and roll right up the waterway at the foot of the small hill we live on. At 4 metres height, it would take out the roadway and maybe the first row of houses along it.
But if it were the size of the recent Japanese tsunami, 10 metres high or more, then I would have to think that the survival of my house is a questionable proposition. I never seriously thought that it would be in danger from a tsunami, I never thought it would be so high, but after watching the hypnotizing video of the wave rolling kilometres inland over villages and farmland, I am shaken in that belief. The topic of tsunami heights has been the talk of the neighbourhood since the quake.
We paused for a moment to stare at the water, and some of the water in The Gorge today, even a small amount, would have travelled across the ocean from Japan and made landfall here.
We forget that power at our peril.