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Study: Over 10,000 Buildings At Risk From Earthquake Triggered Landslides

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The Space Needle, right, is viewed May 30, 2000 against the backdrop of downtown Seattle, WA. An earthquake measuring 6.8 in magnitude hit Seattle February 28, 2001. (Photo by Dan Callister/Getty Images)

The Space Needle, right, is viewed May 30, 2000 against the backdrop of downtown Seattle, WA. An earthquake measuring 6.8 in magnitude hit Seattle February 28, 2001. (Photo by Dan Callister/Getty Images)

SEATTLE, Wash. (CBS Seattle) – According to a new study from the University of Washington, more than 10,000 buildings are at high risks from earthquake triggered landslides.

Seattle is a coastal city with a lot of hills. Researchers estimate that a powerful earthquake can trigger over 30,000 landslides. Not a good combination for buildings on those slopes.

“Our results indicate that landsliding triggered by a large Seattle fault earthquake will be extensive and potentially devastating,” the researchers said in their study.

“Coming on top of widespread damage to buildings and infrastructure caused by the quake itself, landslides would compound the city’s problems and slow its recovery,” lead author Kate Allstadt, who recently earned her doctoral degree in seismology, said in the study. “I think the message is that we need to pay much more attention to these earthquake-induced landslides.”

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources says that a strong earthquake on February 28, 2001 set off 100 landslides.

“Because so many landslides were triggered by the last earthquake on the Seattle Fault, it was really surprising to me that no one had looked in detail at what would happen today, when those hillsides are covered with house,” Allstadt told the Seattle Times.

Allstadt, along with John Vidale, of the UW, and Art Frankel, of the U.S. Geological Survey, wanted to find out what exactly would happen if an earthquake hit the Seattle Fault today.

The researchers were able to create a computer model which showed seismic waves around Seattle.

They were able to estimate that 5,000 landslides would take place under dry conditions as opposed to over 30,000 they predicted if the ground was soaking wet.

According to one scenario, they estimated that an earthquake measuring at a magnitude of 6.7 on the Seattle Fault could possibly kill 1,600 people and cause $33 billion in damage.

“There’s a kind of haunting precedence that tell us that we should pay attention to a large earthquake on the Seattle Fault because it has happened in the past,” Allstadt added.

The report was published in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.

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