Cascadia: Prelude

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It is Tuesday, the 13th of June, 2022, nearly 9 p.m. Flag Day. A full moon has just begun to rise above Mt. Hood. The dark, volcanic mountain silhouetted against the moon and the Willamette River flowing silver in the valley below is a classic snapshot of one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

There are three such cities in Cascadia, prosperous, active, set in the midst of spectacular and wild scenery. Seattle and Vancouver, like Portland to the south, are slowly settling into the summer night. People are finishing their dinner, children off to bed, maybe a late glass of wine this evening, maybe out with friends and just wrapping up an evening on the town, blissfully heading home, highways not too crowded, the weather balmy, the scene a delight.

Then, very suddenly, all over Cascadia, from Point Mendocino, California to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, dogs begin to bark and howl. In those three cities and all the rural stretches in between them from the I-5 corridor to the coast, the howling becomes a blanket of sound, cacophonous, thick and dense. Just as suddenly, flocks of birds of every size appear in ferocious clouds of flight. Everywhere amid the trees and bushes furry animals scurry from their hidey-holes and head uphill.

Beneath all this movement and noise, faintly at first, a rumbling begins, the sound deep and rhythmic like kettle drums beating in the distance and coming closer, getting louder. Abruptly, the ground begins to tremble, and then to heave and sink in waves.

Trees are thrashing back and forth, clouds of leaves are flying through the air and dust is rising in huge gusts. The pulsing waves grow stronger, shaking people off their feet, vehicles off their wheels, trains off their tracks. The ground begins to come apart, crevices open in the earth and the pavement ruptures. The rivers suddenly are boiling like white water rapids, the bridges are swaying wildly, and then in the midst of all the mayhem and the noise, there is a sound as sharp and distinct as a gunshot in the quiet, a blast crystalline and profound.

Throughout Cascadia, along a stretch of nearly 700 miles and almost simultaneously, every window in every building shatters, those of the residences and small buildings bursting in shards and granules from their frames, the skin of the high-rise offices and condominiums peeling away and falling in jagged slabs to the streets below.

Still, the shaking continues, seeming to grow even stronger, the waves of energy lifting and dropping the earth like a carpet being tossed repeatedly, the ground literally heaving everything on it loose of its moorings.

Homes are roiling on their foundations. Everything in them that isn’t strapped down is falling into a jumble on the floor. In the kitchen, the appliances are shuffling from side to side, suddenly animate, the stove and refrigerator waddling across the room, the water heater in the basement tipping over and breaking free of the gas line, which bursts into flame.

Sawdust spurts from the joists of the roof and large cracks open in the walls. Those on the sides of hills, and that is very nearly all the homes in Cascadia, are especially vulnerable, shaking from their foundations and sliding down the slopes into a pile of rubble, virtually everything in them destroyed.

Sirens everywhere are shrieking, the buildings and street lights have gone dark. Only the headlights of automobiles are still burning and they are shining at a crazy jumble of angles into the night sky. The light of the moon is eerie, filtered through the thick dust in the air.

Finally, the shaking stops. Perhaps 10 minutes have passed, seeming an eternity. Fires are burning everywhere, the dust and the leaves are drifting in the air, the sirens continue to blare; otherwise it is very still. There’s nearly no sign of life for the moment. Everyone is too dazed to move.

Even in the dim light of the moon, the devastation is stunning. Cities, towns, villages, individual farms and ranches, remote cabins, everything has been damaged and much of it destroyed. Tens of thousands of people are injured, some grievously, and thousands more have died. All in 10 minutes time. But, the worst is yet to come.

Cascadia: Prelude II here

by Michael Understraw

Center for the New Northwest

(c) 2017 All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

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