On the second day of the Northwest’s largest-ever earthquake and tsunami drill, four branches of the military Wednesday showed off the capability to help people after a major natural disaster.
Inhabiting a tent city on Naval Magazine Indian Island, 500 members of the Navy, Army, Marine Corps and Coast Guard prepared for a four-day training exercise that will test their ability to move supplies from the water to land without using a pier.
The exercise won’t happen until next week, but the Navy used this week’s Cascadia Rising quake and tsunami drill to highlight its large-scale training to media and high-ranking military officials.
If a magnitude 9.0 subduction zone earthquake hits off Oregon’s coast as detailed in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s drill, the shaking would result in five minutes of shaking — longer than any quake felt in the state in modern history.
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On the coast, the quake would trigger a tsunami that could produce an 8-foot wall of water and a surge expected to push into Puget Sound and leave most of the region’s ports, including Tacoma’s, under water.
In the days and weeks that follow, FEMA would call on the military to deliver much-needed food, water and equipment to the hardest-hit communities.
Most of the military response would come from out of state.
Standing a few hundred feet from shore on Indian Island on Wednesday, Lt. Andrew Anderson of the Navy’s Amphibious Construction Battalion One explained what that would look like.
“This is how we’re going to get supplies to shore,” he said gesturing to the USNS Bob Hope, moored between Indian Island and Port Townsend.
The 1,000-foot-long ship is a floating warehouse. Inside is enough room to house 100 sailors, but its main purpose is to shuttle supplies.
Multiple floors span the belly of the ship, providing space for everything from Humvees and military tanks to shipment containers filled with food, water and medical supplies.
Above deck, four cranes supply the strength and agility needed to lower boats and containers to the water several hundred feet below.
The Bob Hope arrived in Pacific Northwest waters May 20 from its homeport on San Diego, California. It will leave at the end of the month.
A limited number of Navy personnel unloaded the ship at Indian Island. As the tent city formed, more personnel arrived.
Despite being there to practice moving supplies from the water to shore without using a pier, the crews used one on the island to unload the ship.
Once empty, the Bob Hope headed to the Port of Tacoma to pick up 150 20-foot-long containers for the over-the-shore drill next week.
The containers are empty, but in a real emergency would be full of supplies, said Lt. Cmdr. Chad Lorenzana of Amphibious Construction Battalion One.
When the training exercise begins June 12, service members will lower the empty containers from the supply ship to a waiting boat. The vessel is 250 feet long and 24 feet wide. It has three segments and can carry everything from containers to military vehicles.
More segments can be added so supplies can be moved directly to shore, Lorenzana said.
“They’re like Legos basically,” he said. “We can rearrange them however we want.”
The Army had one of its boats anchored off Indian Island to participate in the drill.
Similar water and land exercises played out in Puget Sound as part of the federal drill.
Earlier in the week, the Washington Army National Guard landed on the shore of Vashon Island to offload supplies and vehicles needed to stage an emergency operations center on the island for the week.
Elsewhere Wednesday, the Guard practiced a decontamination exercise to simulate their tsunami response.
Officials know the water that remains after a tsunami will be saturated with chemical and biological hazards, said 1st Sgt. Kent Keller with the Guard.
“There’s going to be a lot of unseen hazards because of what is happening,” he said.
First responders are expected to come into contact with everything from raw sewage to bodies of people killed by the wave, Keller said.
“Emergency responders in our community will be contaminated in this filth,” he said.
The Cascadia Rising drill continues across the region through this week.