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New mapping offers more details on how 'the big one' might hit local Navy installations

The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson moves out of dry dock at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, in April 2020.
Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ethan J. Soto
U.S. Navy
The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson moves out of dry dock at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, in April 2020.

If you spend any time in the Northwest, it isn’t long before you start hearing about “the big one.” That’s the giant 9.0 earthquake and tsunami predicted for our part of the world.

It could happen tomorrow. It could happen years from now. But scientists say it will happen. And they spend a lot of time figuring out what it would look like.

New modeling out this week shows that among those in harm's way will be the U.S. Navy, which has a number of facilities here in the Puget Sound region. They include a nuclear submarine base, an ammunition magazine, and the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, which is the only place on the west coast that can dry dock an aircraft carrier, and the only place in the world where the Navy can properly handle nuclear components from decommissioned ships.

Reporter Josh Farley wrote about this in the Kitsap Sun and spoke with KNKX All Things Considered host Ed Ronco.


On the impact of a worst-case tsunami: “It would not only batter the waterfront wharves and docks with waves eclipsing 20 feet, but the Hood Canal would essentially slosh back and forth like a bathtub, all the way to Belfair. It would subject those waterfront facilities with multiple wakes for hours.”

On handling nuclear weapons after a tsunami: “There is indeed much that we don’t know. It’s uncertain if the Navy has studied the impact of a tsunami against a submarine carrying nukes. But the Navy did send me a lengthy response, and they say that a plan for tsunami is really consistent with what other emergency management officials tell us. … They would set up a dedicated post with base leadership and emergency management officials.

On the surrounding communities and region: “Bellingham, Everett, Tacoma – any area that’s near a river or stream mouth, including Seattle and the Duwamish [River], look to be particularly vulnerable. There’s also highways that run along the water, including here through Gorst on the Kitsap Peninsula, that would probably be flooded. Ferry docks are vulnerable, and, of course, homes that are close to the water and marinas are also particularly vulnerable.”

Want to learn more about tsunamis? The state Department of Natural Resources has a guide to their history here, and how to prepare.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.