By Peter V. Milo

SEATTLE (CBS Seattle) — When the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan last year, nature’s fury left a nation in tatters.

As Japan rebuilds, American scientists are examining the data from the disaster and found some parallels close to home. For the Pacific Northwest, the question isn’t if a giant earthquake could happen, but when.

The Cascadia subduction, or otherwise known as the the Cascadia Fault, runs through Southern Canada to Northern California.

Unlike the San Andreas Fault line which has been common knowledge for years now, Cascadia has been scientifically established relatively recently in the 1990s.

And like it’s more famous southern cousin, Cascadia has the potential to unleash a devastating earthquake comparable to the one that struck Japan last year.

The last major quake that came from the Cascadia Fault was January 1700. It displays a holding pattern of about 300 to 500 years until the next quake.

Although there is a chance of a 9.0-magnitude earthquake in 200 years, it could come sooner rather than later.

“We’re in a window of time where it wouldn’t be a tremendous shock to have a big earthquake,” Paul Bodin, associate professor of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington, told CBS Seattle.

If the quake does happen, Bodin says because of Seattle’s distance from the coast it “will have a slower kind of shaking, a longer period kind. It’ll impact bigger structures greatly.”

Bodin believes that Seattle’s buildings would be able to withstand such a quake, though.

“Luckily the bigger buildings are well engineered and structured,” Bodin said. “The design codes are meant to deal with the threats we face.”

The city has conducted studies of what would happen if the Cascadia Fault did unleash a killer earthquake.

Freely available on the Internet, the document goes through the effects of what would happen region by region.

Washington’s coast would get the worst of it as the region would deal with “strong shaking, landslides, and tsunamis … Extensive injuries and fatalities are likely.”

Seattle has put together plans and resources to prepare people for a giant earthquake, including a two volume “Disaster Readiness and Response Plan.”

The Seattle Office of Emergency Management also has documents on preparedness for the worst.

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