Northwest Due for ‘Megaquake’

The Northeast earthquake earlier this week is barely an afterthought with Hurricane Irene barreling toward New York City. On the West Coast, however, earthquakes remain the big threat: California is due for a “full rip nine” megaquake. “When that earthquake hits, it’s going to shake for a long time,” Patrick Corcoran, an Oregon geographer, tells Outside. “Three to five minutes or more. You’re going to feel lucky to survive. Then guess what. You rode out the quake? Congratulations. Now you have 15 minutes to get above 50 feet of ele­vation.” Megaquakes are occurring with unusual frequency—first the quake that set off the Sumatran tsunami in 2004; then the Chilean quake in 2010; and then the Japanese earthquake this year. All these earthquakes took place in the Pacific's Rim of Fire. “Make no doubt about it: we’re in the middle of a global cluster of megaquakes,” another geologist tells Outside. “The reason it’s downplayed is that nobody’s figured out a mechanism—how and why they’re happening now.”