UPDATED: Major earthquake possible in Cornwall area: study

CORNWALL, Ontario – Canada’s insurance industry is warning that we are unprepared for a powerful earthquake in eastern Ontario – and the likelihood of a major temblor is significant.

A study released by the Insurance Bureau of Canada suggests that the region from the St. Lawrence River Valley to the Ottawa Valley – an area including Cornwall – is at high risk area, in which there is at least a 15 per cent chance that a strong earthquake will strike in the next 50 years.

How strong is anyone’s guess, though the study suggests an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.0 or 6.0 is possible.

The report even includes a model of a 7.0 earthquake striking the Quebec City region – a distinct possibility given the geology in that portion of the country.

Damage from such an event would be substantial, said the report – especially in older communities like Cornwall that have many buildings that have not been built with enough earthquake protection.

What’s worse is the study suggests loss of life could be staggering, and the insurance industry would be hard-pressed to cover claims.

An earthquake measuring 5.5 struck Cornwall in the summer of 2010 – the epicentre was located near Buckingham, in western Quebec, not far from Ottawa.

Cornwall was struck by a strong earthquake on Sept. 5, 1944 when chimneys in the city toppled and startled residents were sent streaming into the streets. It caused $2 million damage at the time.

If a major earthquake were to take place today, the city may find itself in a situation where it would declare a state of emergency and implement its emergency plan.

“They are a risk,” said city CAO Norm Levac. “It’s something we’ve spent some time on.”

The plan, though, is somewhat dated. It was last revised in July of 2006 and makes reference to media sources and local agencies that no longer exist or have changed names.

Levac indicated a new revision to the plan is being conceived right now, though he was unsure when it would be made public.

The lead agency in the event of a major earthquake would be the Cornwall Fire Department. There are provisions in the plan for partial and complete evacuations of the city, as well as the establishment of refuge centres at places like the Cornwall Civic Complex. No mention is made of the new Benson Centre, as it was not in existence the last time the plan was updated.

During a state of emergency a great deal of power is vested with the mayor, and that person, in conjunction with a so-called “community control group” which includes people like the police chief, fire chief, medical officer of health and social services manager, among others, would make decisions.

City council does not have to be consulted, or approve all decisions, during a state of emergency.

Cornwall was under a city-wide state of emergency during Ice Storm ’98.

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