Waiting for the big one

For decades, scientists believed that Japan could not experience an earthquake of magnitude greater than 8.4. Then the magnitude-9.0 earthquake killed 18,000 people and triggered the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The San Andreas fault is famous. Its limit is believed to be 8.2. But to the north, beneath the Pacific Northwest states, is the Cascadia subduction zone. A big earthquake there could be up to magnitude 9.2

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