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In the ongoing debate about whether or not to welcome a liquefied natural gas plant in our backyard, there is one argument against the project that we feel needs to be put in some larger perspective.

Opponents have been recently emphasizing the potential for catastrophe at the plant in the event of a major earthquake and resulting tsunami. We’re talking about a magnitude 9 quake, often called a catastrophic, or “great” earthquake. That’s the size of the quake that shattered Southcentral Alaska in 1964, Sumatra in 2004, Chile in 2010 and Japan in 2011.

Such a quake is highly likely. Just off our shore is the Cascadia subduction zone, a giant fault line where the ocean floor is grating beneath the North America plate. The line and the accompanying rupture zone stretches from British Columbia to Eureka, Calif. As those plates grind against each other, the strain and destructive power is unimaginable.

The disaster scenario concerning LNG envisions massive plant destruction, resulting in toxic pollution of Coos Bay and a possible explosion, or at least a massive cloud that would waft over North Bend and the city of Coos Bay, occluding everything in its path.

Envision hell unleashed from the North Spit, and a population victimized with no escape.

But ask Michael Murphy, Program manager for Coos County Emergency Management, and he’ll say: “Jordan Cove would be the least of our problems.”

His point is that it doesn’t matter whether there is an LNG plant or not. In the event of a magnitude 9 quake, the destruction would be total.

First, there would be the shaking earth. A magnitude 9 quake would destroy or severely damage all infrastructure. The Oregon Resilience Plan, written in February 2013 by the state Office of Emergency Management, describes the aftermath this way:

“Following the Cascadia event, the coastal communities will be cut off from he rest of the state and from each other. The coastal area’s transportation system, electrical power transmission and distribution grid, and natural gas service will be fragmented and offline, with long-term setbacks to water and wastewater services. Reliable communications will be similarly affected ....

“The loss of roads and bridges that run north and south will make travel up and down the coast and into the valley difficult, if not impossible ... and the difficulties will be exacerbated in the tsunami inundation area by its more complete destruction.

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“… Current timelines for the restoration of services to 90-percent operational levels will take a minimum of one to three years, and often over three years in the earthquake-only zone. Restoration in the tsunami zone will take even longer than that.”

The violent shaking would also disrupt the seabed itself, leaving navigation of the bay treacherous, at best. To the east, landslides could easily cut us off from access to Interstate 5 via state highways 38 and 42.

We have talked before about the concept of South Coast as an island. A catastrophic earthquake would literally isolate us.

And then there’s the tsunami, which would arrive about 15 to 20 minutes later. On Tuesday, we’ll talk about that, the LNG plant and what we really need to be worrying about.

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