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Japanese quake has lessons for us

In the punishing aftermath of the powerful earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, our thoughts continue to be with many thousands of people in Japan who've been displaced, injured or killed by the magnitude 9.0 quake.

The scenes of destruction in that country are mind-boggling. Even in a nation as modern and well-prepared as Japan, such a powerful earthquake was quickly disruptive and very deadly.

But each of us can do something to make a difference, here and in Japan.

Portland and its adjoining communities have many affiliations with Japan, including former residents who live in Japan, current residents who have relatives there and sister-city relationships involving Portland, Beaverton and Gresham. With so many connections - and the Oregon Coast itself being struck by tsunami waves - this particular earthquake doesn't seem like a faraway event.

The quake is of significant interest for another reason, too: It was a subduction zone quake, similar to the type of earthquake that could occur off the Oregon Coast. On Friday, state Geologist Vicki McConnell discussed the geologic similarities between the Pacific Northwest and Japan. And she warned that the next big quake is due, telling news reporters, 'They usually happen every 300 years, and the last one was in the 1700s.'

Oregon residents have grown accustomed to hearing such warnings, so they may not take them as seriously as they should. Subduction zone quakes, which can have magnitudes of 9.0 and above, are among the largest potential disasters on Earth. Knowing of this potential, Oregonians should support government requirements that buildings, bridges and other facilities be constructed - or in many cases, updated - to be safer during earthquakes.

Oregon residents also should take personal responsibility for having emergency supplies in the homes and for understanding what they should do during an earthquake. (The Oregon Red Cross has extensive advice on this topic, and you can find it online at oregonredcross.org.) Meanwhile Washington County's Office of Consolidated Emergency Management is distributing a series of informative handouts that will help guide local preparedness.

Yet, no amount of preparedness can render a massive earthquake harmless. Japan is better prepared than Oregon and Washington for quakes and tsunamis, and the damage is still beyond belief.

In the aftermath of watching the horror in Japan, we should do three things: offer thoughts and prayers for those harmed by the Japanese disaster; begin our own safety preparations close to home; and donate what we are able to relief organizations such as Portland's own Mercy Corps, Tigard-based Medical Teams International and the American Red Cross, which are all mobilizing efforts to aid the victims of this latest horrific natural disaster.