Friday, March 2, 2018

Tsunami Watch Saves Lives

 When Seconds Count

Written by SurfWriter Girls Sunny Magdaug and Patti Kishel

People in earthquake-prone California know about "waiting for the big one." But, earthquakes aren't the only big ones to be concerned about. With close to 850 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline, it's important to be on the watch for tsunamis – giant waves that can reach hundreds of feet high.

California isn't alone. Other coastal states and many parts of the world are at risk from tsunamis, including: Japan, China, Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, Chile, Portugal, Italy, and Greece.On March 11, 2011, a massive tsunami with 30 ft. waves, traveling almost 500 mph hit Japan, killing more than 18,000 people and displacing over 400,000 from their homes. 

 The tsunami swept an estimated 5 million tons of debris into the Pacific Ocean with about a third of it eventually washing up on U.S. shores. Even a 65-ft dock, torn away from a Japanese fishing port, ended up on a beach in Oregon.   

Caused by abrupt changes in the ocean floor - the shifting of tectonic plates, volcanic eruptions, underwater landslides and other geologic events – 75% of the world's tsunamis occur in the Pacific Ocean.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says, "Although a tsunami cannot be prevented, the impact of a tsunami can be mitigated through community preparedness, timely warnings and effective response."

SurfWriter Girls Sunny Magdaug and Patti Kishel learned that public awareness is critical, especially since tsunamis aren't always obvious at first and can strike seemingly without warning. NOAA explains that initially "the tsunami wave may only be a few inches high" and "come gently to shore." Then "it may increase in height to become a fast-moving wall of turbulent water several meters high." 

Before a tsunami reaches the beach it may be preceded by falling or rising water levels, pulling the ocean in and out from the shoreline. During the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 many people in Indonesia were killed because they walked down to the shoreline to look at the exposed ocean floor, not realizing the receding waters would return with a vengeance as a giant killer wave.   


To save lives and help cities survive a tsunami, NOAA, the National Weather Service, and other U.S. government agencies created the TsunamiReady City program that promotes tsunami preparedness and sets up guidelines to improve public safety during and after a tsunami.

Luckily for California, communities up and down the coast are getting on board as certified TsunamiReady Cities. including legendary surfing spots Huntington Beach (Surf City, USA), Newport Beach (The Wedge), San Clemente (Trestles), and more.


Tony Soriano, Surfrider Foundation Huntington/Seal Beach Chapter chair. told SurfWriter Girls, "Early warning is very important. And leaving the low-lying areas and avoiding traffic jams and panic."

This is true around the world. The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction is also working with countries to put tsunami watch programs in place.

When the big one hits, seconds count.

Following emergency workers' instructions and knowing what to do during a tsunami can save your life.    

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