The U.S. Geological Survey is reporting an earthquake the afternoon of Jan. 24, 2020 was a 4.8 magnitude and 26 kilometres deep. (USGS MAP)

Robert Barron column: Earthquakes a fact of life on the West Coast

I’ve lived on Vancouver Island for almost 25 years now and have never felt an earthquake

How many people felt the 4.5-magnitude earthquake that struck the Island last Friday afternoon?

The earthquake was centred south of Ucluelet, but it was felt by many in the Cowichan Valley.

I was sitting in a local restaurant at the time, having a celebratory lunch with a number of co-workers on entertainment editor Lexi Bainas’s final day of work before her retirement.

Nobody at the table, or anyone else in the restaurant for that matter, felt a thing.

It wasn’t until I returned to the office that I found out what had happened.

My colleague Sarah Simpson was already writing a story about the earthquake to get it on our webpage as soon as possible.

She said she felt the office move for a few brief seconds and her heart had been racing ever since.

I’ve lived on Vancouver Island for almost 25 years now and have never felt an earthquake, although some (albeit nothing major) have occurred in my time here.

The last significant one I can recall was more than 10 years ago when I was working with the Nanaimo Daily News.

I was in the washroom at one point in the day and when I came out, people were scurrying everywhere looking frightened.

My first thought was that some crazed criminal, or someone who didn’t like that day’s editorial, had come into the office with a weapon and scared the pants off of everyone.

But one of my colleagues told me that the entire building had just shook for a few seconds, and I did see water was still splashing out of an aquarium that was in one of the cubicles from the shaking.

I concluded that the building’s washroom area was probably the safest place in the structure to be in a shake, and always made sure after that incident that I was in close proximity to it in the event of the Big One occurring while I was at work.

The last time there was a major earthquake close to the Cowichan Valley was a 6.8-magnitude shaker in 2001, which was centred south of Seattle.

But large ones could occur here at any time; and not necessarily connected to the meeting of the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate and the North American plate off the Island’s west coast where the Big One is expected to occur.

In 2016, Canadian and American seismologists confirmed the existence of a previously unknown earthquake fault zone just five kilometres south of Victoria, called the Devil’s Mountain Fault Zone.

The zone is made up of a series of faults that run from Washington state to Victoria, and has the potential to create earthquakes that could be as high as 7.5 magnitude, which would make last Friday’s tremors in the Valley seem minor in comparison.

So if we’re going to live here, we must prepare for these disasters before they happen.

The Cowichan Valley Regional District advises that each home should have an emergency kit readily available that should have sufficient supplies of dry food, water, tools, dry clothes, flashlights and other necessary equipment to last at least a week.

People can’t be guaranteed to be at home when an earthquake hits, so they should also have a ‘grab and go’ emergency kit in their vehicles that should have the basics; including food, water, medications, safety goggles and work gloves.

It may be an inconvenience, but being prepared may save the lives of you and your family.

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