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A study has found that tsunamis as high as 42 feet can strike Seattle within minutes of an earthquake at the Seattle Fault.

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A new report from the Washington Department of Natural Resources has found that a single earthquake in Seattle could cause a catastrophic situation in the northwest corner of the state.

The study focused on the Seattle Fault under Puget Sound and the City of Seattle. The researchers developed modeling scenarios based on the effects of the last earthquake that triggered a tsunami in the region, which occurred about 1,100 years ago. This earthquake on the fault is believed to have been between 7.0 and 7.5 on the Richter scale, and the researchers said in their report that it may have been the only major earthquake to have occurred in the fault in the past 16,000 years.

But, they said, “the fault is still active and capable of generating similar tsunami earthquakes today.”

“The impacts could be enormous,” said Hilary Franz, Commissioner of Public Lands.

“Most of the time, when we think of tsunamis, we think of our offshore coast and our communities along the Pacific,” she said. “But there is a long history of earthquakes on faults in Puget Sound.”

Seattle-Bainbridge Island, Washington Tsunami Simulation by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources on YouTube

If a 7.5-magnitude earthquake occurred on the fault line today, simulations show that the tsunami waves would travel through Puget Sound, the Rosario Strait, and the Strait of Georgia. It will affect the coastline from the Canadian border to Olympia in one to two hours.

In just 3 minutes, the first tsunami wave hit the greater Seattle area, according to simulations. The waves can last more than 3 hours and management said they can reach 42 feet in Seattle’s famous Great Wheel. Waves can exceed Lumens Field, home to the Seattle Seahawks, and in some areas of impact, waves can travel up to three miles inland.

NEW: Simulation of the impact of a 7.5 magnitude earthquake on the Seattle Fault.

Tsunami waves can reach 42 feet at Seattle’s Great Well, and will reach inland as far as Lumens Field and T-Mobile Park. pic.twitter.com/y44PWHXQtv

Washington State Department of Natural Resources (waDNR) July 7, 2022

The department conducted the study as part of the state’s efforts to create tsunami response and preparedness plans. More than 760,000 people live in Seattle, the most populous city in Washington.

The researchers said the recent earthquake in the area was so massive that it pushed a beach on Bainbridge Island up by 23 feet while also plummeting at West Point in Seattle by 3 feet. They added that the next earthquake could create a new coastline.

“Although the chances of this happening in our lifetimes are low, it is important that families prepare now,” Maximilian Dixon, director of the Hazards and Awareness Program for the Washington Department of Emergency Management, said in a statement. “Earth shaking will warn you of a possible tsunami on the way. Make sure you know where the nearest high ground is and the quickest way to get there. Sign up for tsunami and local alerts.”

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Lee Cohen

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