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The Destructive History of Earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest

Updated: Dec 20, 2022


The Pacific Northwest is no stranger to earthquakes. The region has seen some of the most powerful earthquakes in the United States, many of which have caused significant damage and disruption. Here we’ll look at some of the biggest earthquakes that have occurred in the Pacific Northwest and the destruction they caused.


The most powerful earthquake to ever hit the Pacific Northwest was the 1700 Cascadia Earthquake. This magnitude 9.0 quake struck the region on January 26th, 1700, causing a huge tsunami that devastated the coastline of present-day Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia. The earthquake was so powerful that it caused the entire coastline to drop several meters in some places, and it was felt as far away as Mexico and Japan. The destruction caused by the tsunami was so severe that it destroyed villages and wiped out entire Native American tribes.


The earthquake caused large areas of land to suddenly drop creating what is known as a ghost forest on the pacific coast.


On January 26, 1700, a massive 9.0 earthquake struck the Pacific Ocean, ripping through the Pacific Northwest and creating a tsunami as far away as Japan. It took scientists years to understand the details of this earthquake, since the Native Americans who were the area’s only residents at the time kept only oral records of it. One clue, however, was a forest of dead trees standing along the Copalis River in Washington.
In the massive flood, the land on which the trees were standing dropped over six feet and was completely inundated with salt water, turning the dense forest into a marsh. The now-dead trees have remained standing ever since, ghostly grey poles dotting the landscape.


More recently, the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake struck near Seattle, Washington on February 28th, 2001. This magnitude 6.8 quake caused widespread damage throughout the region, including the collapse of the Kingdome in Seattle. The quake killed one person and injured over 400 others, while causing over $2 billion in damage.


The most recent significant earthquake in the Pacific Northwest was the 2015 Magnitude 6.3 earthquake in the Strait of Georgia, between Vancouver Island and the mainland. This quake caused a number of landslides and minor damage to buildings, but thankfully no deaths or serious injuries.


These three earthquakes illustrate just how powerful and potentially destructive earthquakes can be in the Pacific Northwest. Earthquakes of this magnitude occur infrequently, but it’s important to be prepared for them and to understand the risks they pose. Uncertainly whether your property is at risk? Book a free seismic retrofit assessment today.

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