It wasn’t an earthquake — it was a typhoon. And 50 years ago today it lashed the Sunshine Coast after cutting a path of destruction across the Pacific Northwest, where it killed 46, and Vancouver and Victoria, where it killed another seven.
Rated as the most powerful windstorm to hit the region during the 20th century, Typhoon Freda’s 50th anniversary provides a sobering reminder of why next week’s Great B.C. ShakeOut is relevant to all Coast residents, said Bill Elsner, emergency program coordinator for the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD).
“It’s all hazard preparedness — it doesn’t matter if it’s an earthquake, a hurricane, a typhoon or a snowstorm. Preparedness is preparedness,” Elsner said.
“The way you prepare for a big storm like Freda is the way you want people to prepare for an earthquake. Drop, cover and hold on might not be a bad idea,” he said.
This year’s Great B.C. ShakeOut drill is set for Thursday, Oct. 18, at 10:18 a.m. — the same time a major subduction earthquake struck the region about 300 years ago.
Almost half a million people on the West Coast have registered for this year’s drill at www.shakeoutbc.ca, co-sponsors the BC Earthquake Alliance and Insurance Bureau of Canada announced last week.
On the Coast, 2,668 participants had signed up as of Tuesday, most of them from schools, local governments, provincial government agencies and non-profit groups.
For at least 60 seconds at the appointed time, participants drop, cover and hold on, and then start thinking about what they would do if it were the real thing.
“We want people to think about their surroundings at that time,” Elsner said. “We want them to think about their family and what they would do if they got separated. Having a plan ahead of time is really important.”
Provisions should include a seven-day supply of food and water, a full tank of fuel in the family vehicle and a battery-powered radio to catch news updates on the local station, he said.
Elsner said he has heard anecdotes about Typhoon Freda from long-time residents, who “talked about it being a major event and could still remember the sound of the wind and trees blowing over.”
On Oct. 12, 1962, the south coast received the final impact of Freda, called the Columbus Day Storm, or the Big Blow, in the U.S.
Gusting up to 145 km/h, Freda cut power from Horseshoe Bay to Hope and downed one-fifth of the trees in Stanley Park. The seven deaths in Canada were blamed on trees or poles falling on vehicles and crushing the occupants.
The Great B.C. ShakeOut drill focuses on earthquakes for good reason, however. In the Vancouver area, which includes the Sunshine Coast as it has not been assessed separately for seismic probability, the risk factor from shallow and sub-crustal earthquakes is considered high, while the risk from more powerful subduction earthquakes is considered moderate.
A 2004 analysis concluded that subduction earthquakes had an average recurrence interval of 590 years, plus or minus 105 years, and estimated the likelihood of one occurring within the next 50 years was 11 per cent, says a 2005 report prepared for the SCRD.
The SCRD’s region has been designated as Zone 4 out of six possible seismic zones, with Zone 6 having the greatest risk of seismic activity, the report says.