Tuesday, May 4, 2010  
   Volume 80 - Issue 18 Website:www.passherald.ca   email: passherald@shaw.ca   $1.00   
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Quote of the Week
“We’re a very small town, a small community, but we have a lot of heart, and you’re part of that heart now.”
- Principal Wes Wescott  
- on student exchanges   
   

 

Looking Back - John KinnearWe seem to be going through another cycle of devastating earthquakes these days what with the likes of Haiti’s 7.0, Chile’s 8.8 and Turkey’s 6.0 on the Richter scale.  Probably if you look at the frequency graphs it is within the norm of what is expected in the cycles of movement along those shifting pieces of pie we call the tectonic plates. The Richter Scale by the way is a base 10 logarithmic one, so that a 5.0 has shaking amplitude ten times that of a 4.0.
 While all these horrific seismic events may seem fairly remote to us it should be remembered that experts say our west coast is apparently long overdue for one of these “big ones”.  The Crowsnest Pass, thankfully, is located in a low likelihood zone for the most part.  That’s a good thing I’m thinking because if we were in an earthquake prone zone I wouldn’t want to be around this valley when the ground decided to shake, rattle and roll.
My first exposure to the significance of the earth doing a dance came in 1968. I was studying architecture at the time and had travelled to Vancouver on a field trip with classmates to study some of the marvels of that coastal city’s structural innovations. It was there we toured what was deemed to be an earthquake resistant building under construction. The West Coast Transmission building on Burrard Inlet proved to be one of the most unique structures we were to see on that trip.
Its designers recognized that Vancouver was in a deadly seismic corridor that extends north from California and that the more flexible they could make their building the less likely it would be to disintegrate when shaken.
They started by pouring 15 stories of concrete elevator shaft only. At the top of this shaft they then set up forms to pour the fifteenth floor, also concrete. By using bundles of massive steel cables draped from the top of the elevator shaft to the 4 corners of the forms they began pouring and setting, working their way downward towards the ground thus generating a cable suspended building. The cables were allowed to stretch and take the load of each new floor as they went and the building was kept plumb (no easy task when you build backwards) by using giant plumb bobs suspended in oil. The oddest part of the towers construction was that it had no main floor. You can walk directly from the street to the elevators under the second story floor.
Our class of twenty or so on tour then was able to set the recently poured twelfth floor gently undulating by a deliberate synchronized jumping up and down which was sort of unnerving but technically interesting.
Ten years later while working in Calgary I was offered an opportunity to move to that seismic city by the coal company I was working for. While contemplating the pro’s and cons of this major family move some demented soul left an engineering study on my desk.
It was entitled: ”The Possibility of Liquefaction of Sediments in the Fraser River Delta in the Event of a Serious Seismic Event”.
 
Its suggestion, put in simpler terms, was that a strong earthquake there would liquefy the Fraser River Delta’s ancient sediments and anything of substance (i.e. houses, cars, roads etc.) would disappear into that seismic soup. Say goodbye to Delta and Richmond and hello to Tsawwassen, the island. While it wasn’t the principal reason I chose to stay put in Calgary it most certainly was a factor.
The most recent and closest seismic event of any substance to occur in our proximity was a 30 second jolt that hit Courtenay on Vancouver Island, June 23, 1946.
I met a fellow by the name of  Elmer Winnig in Fernie years ago who was there for that particular event. He was 12 years old at the time and was busy cranking a milk separator on his father’s farm four miles outside Courtenay when fresh milk started slopping out all sides of the separator’s top bowl. His father, having gone through another quake in his lifetime, had warned him to head for uncluttered open spaces if one should occur, which he did. Once outside Elmer had the profound experience of observing the nearby pine trees undulating from the seismic ripples.
Interestingly enough his father had noticed the horses acting strangely prior to the event. Erratic animal behaviour is now commonly accepted and monitored as a warning sign of an impending event.
Mercifully, the Courtenay quake happened on a Sunday morning when a lot of public buildings were unoccupied. The chimney of Courtenay’s Central School crashed through the grade 8 classroom and onto the primary room directly below. According to the historic book on Courtenay entitled All About Us: “There was a strange rumbling as of an underground train though afterwards people could not remember if the noise came first or the undulating waves of lawns, roadways and the trees which heaved and twisted and bent almost parallel to the ground”. Yikes!
Washing machines and beds moved across rooms, chimneys toppled all the way to Campbell River and piles driven thirty feet into the ground at a logging camp along the edge of Comox Lake “popped out of the water like corks.”
Elmer noticed that many of those undulating coniferous trees he observed that day had their needles turn yellow the next year. This was no doubt due to the root damage caused by the seismic ripples.
Courtenay claims to have the first recorded case of a “streaker” then, a guest at the Riverside Hotel sleeping “in the raw” who made a dash for the street when that 6.5 set the town in motion.
Recent studies using special gps (satellite global positioning system) monitor posts have shown that part of Vancouver Island is moving 10 mm per year to the east and part is moving northwest!  Kinda nice to be out east here in the mountains on steadier ground isn’t it?
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