New Zealand earthquake has parallels with Seattle

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by GLENN FARLEY / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @GlennFarley

KING5.com

Posted on February 22, 2011 at 7:51 PM

SEATTLE -- The earthquake that shook New Zealand this week has some frightening parallels to the quake risk in Seattle.

In Christchurch, old masonry buildings fell apart as soon as the aftershocks hit. Pioneer Square also has unreinforced, masonry buildings. While buildings like that are regarded as dangerous now, they used to express safety in a different way a century ago.

"When these buildings were built, they were the newest, [most modern] technology because they were fireproof. Cause they were brick," says architect John Moefield, who works in Pioneer Square.  and the news out of Christchurch is un-nerving.  

"You just realize that's a total possibility. And that's why I only work down here," he says.
   
In 1999, U.S. Geological Survey geologist Brian Sherrod pointed out another similarity -- faults close to the surface. Under an elevated part of I-5 south off the I-90 interchange are folded rocks. Folded because of the Seattle fault. The fault is capable of a magnitude 6.7 to 7.2 earthquake. But Monday's quake in New Zealand is unlike the 6.8 magnitude Nisqually quake of February 28th, 2001, which was 30 miles below the surface.

But both types of quakes don't mix well with unreinforced masonry buildings that in Seattle were estimated to total 1,000 in a study completed in 2008. 

Since then, some building owners have reinforced their buildings with steel braces. The number is now closer to 800, according to Bryan Stevens with the Seattle Department of Planning and Development. 

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