The day the Island shook: Vancouver Island rocked by earthquake 75 years ago today

The 1946 earthquake severely damaged Comox Road. Photo donated by the late Eileen Turnbull, former Town of Comox clerk and council member. Courtesy of Comox Archives & MuseumThe 1946 earthquake severely damaged Comox Road. Photo donated by the late Eileen Turnbull, former Town of Comox clerk and council member. Courtesy of Comox Archives & Museum
Damage to a house on Anderton Road in Comox following the 1946 earthquake. Photo donated by the late Eileen Turnbull, former Town of Comox clerk and council member. Courtesy of Comox Archives & MuseumDamage to a house on Anderton Road in Comox following the 1946 earthquake. Photo donated by the late Eileen Turnbull, former Town of Comox clerk and council member. Courtesy of Comox Archives & Museum
Courtenay Elementary sustained a hole in the roof. Courtesy Courtenay and District Museum, 990.25.5Courtenay Elementary sustained a hole in the roof. Courtesy Courtenay and District Museum, 990.25.5
Classroom damage in 1946. Courtesy Courtenay and District Museum, 972.54.2Classroom damage in 1946. Courtesy Courtenay and District Museum, 972.54.2
The post office building was also damaged in the 1946 earthquake. Courtesy Courtenay and District Museum, 967.13.42The post office building was also damaged in the 1946 earthquake. Courtesy Courtenay and District Museum, 967.13.42
Many chimneys were damaged. Courtesy Courtenay and District Museum, 967.13.44Many chimneys were damaged. Courtesy Courtenay and District Museum, 967.13.44

On June 23, 1946, Vancouver Island was rocked by an earthquake that emanated from Forbidden Plateau, and could be felt from Prince Rupert to Portland, Ore.

The quake registered 7.3 on the Richter scale.

According to the Courtenay Museum, the shaking knocked down 75 per cent of the chimneys in Cumberland, Union Bay and Courtenay, damaged buildings in Comox, Port Alberni and Powell River, and even caused some damage in Washington State. Two deaths were attributed to the earthquake: a man who drowned when his boat was swamped by a wave near Deep Bay, and a Seattle man who suffered a heart attack.

“This particular earthquake happened in the crust, and it was fairly big. This would have surprised a lot of people. It was unprecedented for that time,” said Joseph Farrugia, a seismologist at Natural Resources Canada. “If something happened like this today, not much would be different in terms of ground shaking.”

Farrugia would expect that structures not built to current codes would sustain repeated damage in terms of knocked down chimneys and foundation issues.

Though it occurred 75 years ago, the 1946 earthquake can serve as a reminder to prepare for a disaster — which can strike at any time.

“That’s the reality,” said Paul Berry, president of Comox Valley Search and Rescue, and director of health and safety at Comox Valley Schools. “Everything that we know currently is that we’re due. Could be tomorrow, it could be years from now. There’s not usually any warning. When it strikes, it means that people need to be prepared in advance.”

Berry said most local schools have been seismically upgraded. All schools have a site emergency preparedness committee, and resources for people to care for themselves post-earthquake.

In the event of a large-scale earthquake on the West Coast, Berry said it would take several days for federal resources to arrive.

“We know from examples we’ve seen, even in countries that are well prepared, how communities are overwhelmed immediately,” he said. “The majority of rescues, post-disaster, are completed within the first 12-24 hours — not by trained responders, they’re conducted by neighbours and friends.”

Because emergency services would be tied up, schools have supplies on hand to look after the facility, to conduct a cursory inspection and keep people out of harm’s way.

Farrugia said an earthquake kit can cover a person for any natural disaster. Having a minimum of 72 hours’ worth of provisions is recommended.

For more information, visit Prepared BC: bit.ly/3gRhFr7

“They really want you to cover all your bases,” Farrugia said. “I think having a plan is probably the biggest asset, so that you can account for different situations you might find yourself in.”

The third Thursday of October is International ShakeOut Day (https://www.shakeoutbc.ca/) which teaches the public to drop, cover and hold on.

“That’s the best thing you can do,” Farrugia added. “The number one cause of death in earthquakes is things falling on people, things off shelves.”

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reporter@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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