Seattle area’s evolving earthquake threat

Several recent studies from the world of geology have relevance in this damp corner of the country.  They point to the possibility that “the big one” might be bigger than we thought.

Lesson from Indonesia. They’ve had 5 major earthquakes in the past 5 years, including the famous tsunami of 2004.  A more recent quake and tsunami off the coast of Sumatra was eerily like the one that’s predicted to hit the coast of Washington and Oregon some day.  Major lessons?  As I reported for KPLU, it showed that these deep quakes could be more powerful than previously thought.   There was no tsunami this time, but the public knew enough to head for high ground anyway, just in case.

Slow quakes and Mega-quakes. You may have heard of “slow earthquakes” (also known as “deep tremors”). They happen pretty regularly in the land of Cascadia, as the power of a big earthquake is released slowly over a period of weeks.  We don’t feel anything, because the energy is spread out over time.  The leading theory is these release energy in one area as two plates on Earth’s crust slide past each other–but add to the pent-up energy at a deeper spot.  Now, scientists (led by Ken Creager at the U. of Washington) find a second type of unfelt tremor may be adding even more tension to the fault zone that runs beneath the Interstate-5 zone.  If so, that means “the big one,” whenever it happens, could be bigger than previously thought.  Geologists and engineers have to go back and re-do some calculations to see if we need to change our building codes.

Could this seismograph fit in your basement?

Volunteer to be a basement seismologist. The U.S. Geological Survey and U.W. are looking for modest size homes throughout the Seattle area, to create a network of sensors.  A similar project is underway in the San Francisco area.  They’ll get data on how different soils and different types of structures respond to shaking.  They need a spot on a concrete floor about 2 ft. x 2 ft. with electrical power and potential internet connection.  To sign up, check out the NetQuakes program.

Gunshot wound might have killed Clemmons anyway

You might have been wondering, How could Maurice Clemmons have survived so long with a gunshot wound right in the belly?

He managed to last nearly two days  – after one of the Lakewood police officers (Greg Richards) shot him during the coffee shop ambush on Sunday.  Clemmons was hit just above the belly button, said Pierce County Sheriff spokesman Ed Troyer.  He later died in Seattle after another officer shot him two or more times on a city street.  Clemmons was found with duct-tape and cotton gauze covering the wound.

Police handgun, similar to the one used in battle at a coffee-shop near Lakewood, Wash. (photo by Clyde Armory)

We may never know why he lasted.  The King County Medical Examiner says autopsy reports are not public documents.  The autopsy is considered “protected health information.”  In other words, it’s private, and the next of kin must consent to any public release.  The public report will only confirm the cause of death.

I asked the chief trauma surgeon at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center for some speculation.  Harborview is the hospital where nearly all gunshot victims end up in the Seattle area.

Dr. Jerry Jurkovich says most gunshot wounds to that region would be fatal without surgery, since “it would almost certainly have injured some segment of the intestine.”  But, it might take several days for the infection to get bad enough to kill.  Bleeding to death is unlikely (and would happen very quickly).

It’s possible the bullet hit Clemmons from a sideways angle and did not penetrate major organs.

Does it matter? Not really, except as it sheds light on how much the “assistance” from his friends and family kept Clemmons alive.

MORE INFO [12/16/09] — Here’s some speculation.  Okay, it’s from unnamed sources, but credible enough to share, with caveats.  A friend of mine was discussing the case with a buddy in the FBI.  They came up with this:  One reason Clemmons might have survived that initial gunshot wound was if he was shot by one of his own guns, instead of the officer’s gun.  His .38 caliber revolver packs a smaller impact than the .40 caliber Glock (pictured above).

If so, that also reveals a little about how the events might have unfolded.  After the other three officers had been shot, Ofc. Richards was struggling with Clemmons, who still could have had a revolver in each hand.  Perhaps, one went off and hit Clemmons in the belly, but Clemmons might have used the other hand to shoot Richards in the head.  In this scenario, Richards’ gun was never pulled.  Clemmons would have taken it off his body before he ran.