Robert Bennett thought the floor in the community hall was shaking because of the Haida dancers.
But then, his wife Georgia saw the terrified look on a woman’s face. She saw a man who couldn’t get up out of his seat. The joy of the wedding ceremony began to break into pandemonium.
It was an earthquake, and a big one at that. It measured 7.7 on the Richter scale and was the largest earthquake in Haida Gwaii in 60 years.
The quake was strong enough to send small tsunami waves across the Pacific to Hawaii. Small waves licked the Vancouver Island coast and unnerved people in the Quileute Nation town of La Push, Washington, where just two days earlier the Nation had celebrated legislation that enables it to move a seaside village upland out of the tsunami zone.
The quake struck about 8 p.m. on October 27, centered about 150 miles south of Masset, and while there were no reported injuries and no reported damage, nerves were frayed for days as aftershocks continued to rock the region.
Lisa Telford, a Haida artist who lives in Everett, Washington, couldn’t sleep after hearing about the quake; she was anxious for news from home. She finally got in touch with a cousin via Facebook and learned that Masset was evacuated and everyone sought higher ground in the event there was a tsunami.
“At 4 a.m. I was talking on Facebook with my cousin,” Telford said. “She was afraid to go to sleep.”
Three days after the quake, Bennett said “a lot of people are still traumatized.” Some people have talked about the need to make counseling available to local residents. Children were terrified to go to school on Monday, October 29.
“I didn’t send my little one out,” Bennett said of her 8-year-old. “I just needed him close.”
Dorothy Grant, a Haida artist who lives in Tsawwassen, near mainland Vancouver, British Columbia, was able to talk to her sister by phone within an hour of the quake. The quake brought back memories of 1964, when she and her family camped in a school gymnasium in Ketchikan, Alaska, after a deadly earthquake and tsunami destroyed the cities of Chenega and Valdez and killed 143 people.
However, Grant pointed out, the 1964 quake was a megathrust quake, in which one part of the fault is pushed upward. The October 27 quake was a “strike-slip” fault, meaning there was a more horizontal shift of the ground.
That’s why the latter quake was not as devastating. But according to mainlander Telford, the Haida Gwaii quake could mean a larger quake is coming to the region where she now lives, as one tectonic plate grinds against another without the relief of a thrust.
“I’m not looking forward to that,” she said.
Telford was in the Seattle suburb of Renton during the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, which measured 6.8, caused extensive property damage and injured 400 people. One person had a heart attack and died.
“It seemed like the whole ground was rolling,” she said of that quake.
When the latest quake struck, Bennett said, instincts kicked in. She, Carrie Carty, Goldie Swanson and others got into the mode of helping people evacuate. It wasn’t until later, when she watched a video posted on YouTube, that she heard the rumbling, saw the shaking, noticed the panic.
“When I saw that video, I started bawling,” she said.
Back home, she was hoping the earthquake would have given her one gift for all of her troubles. “Our old dinosaur TV flipped onto the ground,” she said. “I hoped it was broken so we could get a new one. But my husband said it’s fine, it still works.”