Did you feel the earthquake Jan. 7?

Experts say 'the big one' might be closer to happening than many believe

“It will happen, that’s the one thing we can be sure about,” Stephen Johnson told

The NEWS of “the big one” after the Jan. 7 earthquake in Tofino.

Johnson, geologist and director of the UVic School of Earth and Oeean Sciences, admitted the timelines are too long and there are too few data points (major earthquakes) to predict when the much-talked-about major earthquake will hit the B.C. coast with any accuracy.

“It could happen right now while we’re talking, it could happen in 400 years,” he said, explaining that all the best data they have suggests a major quake every 500 to 700 years, but with a margin of error of around 200 years either direction. With the 8.7 to 9.2 magnitude Cascadia quake taking place 315 years ago this month, that means statistically the big one could hit anywhere between 15 years ago and 600 years from now. Meanwhile, experts everywhere want people to use last Thursday’s tremor as a reminder to be prepared.

“I was standing in my kitchen and I felt two sharp jolts up and down,” said Dashwood Volunteer Fire Department Chief Nick Acciavatti after the 4.8 earthquake that struck near Tofino at 6:02 p.m. last Wednesday. Reports have many people across the Parksville Qualicum Beach area, and as far away as Vancouver feeling shaking, but few reports of damage and no injuries.

Johnson said this was different than most of the dozen or so on the B.C. coast every year that are big enough to be felt. It was the result of tension in the Continental Plate which is “coiling up,” rather than the more common tremors that come from movement in the Oceanic Plate.

“This should serve as a good wake-up for people,” said Acciavatti, who highlights that “our department is strictly volunteers, most emergency services around here except the police and EMS are volunteers and in the event of an emergency they may have to look after their own families before they can even try getting in here.”

Parksville Emergency Program Coordinator Aaron Dawson agrees. “We’d all have to get here (to city hall or the emergency command centre) and then start assessing needs,” he said pointing out that in a large scale emergency they may have more immediate priorities like fires before they get to things like making sure people have food.

“We know there is only a three day supply of food on the Island at any given time, so we recommend people do what they can afford to do, have at least a minimum three days supply of food and preferably, we recommend a week supply,” said Dawson.

Dawson and Acciavatti recommend Emergency Management B.C. (www.embc.gov.bc.ca) for good emergency preparation information and check with the Regional District of Nanaimo (www.rdn.bc.ca or 250-390-4111) or your local municipality or fire department for more local information.

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