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Tsunamis are a Distinct Possibility for Both Coasts of the U.S.

The undersea quake that hit the Indian Ocean on December 26, prompting the tsunami that has wreaked havoc on southern Asia, is a poignant reminder of the fragility of human life and our utter reliance on nature's cooperation to survive.

The death toll from this horrible tragedy has risen to over 120,000 people as of this writing, making it one of the worst disasters in all of recorded history.

In Indonesia alone, where the worst damage occurred, more than 80,000 people have died. Eleven other nations across southern Asia and East Africa, including Sri Lanka, India and Thailand, have thousands missing and are gripped by fear of more deaths that could be caused by disease from unsanitary conditions.

The catastrophe has prompted what some are calling the biggest relief effort the world has ever seen. Some 5 million people in surrounding areas are lacking basic necessities like clean water, shelter, food and health care, and world governments have said they would contribute $500 million in aid to quake-tsunami disaster victims.

It Could Happen in the U.S.A.
Tsunamis, which are actually huge tidal waves caused by earthquakes beneath the seafloor (typically they must occur at a magnitude greater than 6.5 on the Richter scale—the one that occurred in Asia was a 9), could happen here in the United States.

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To say that all of us at are saddened by the loss of lives
and devastation of the December
26th tsunamis and earthquakes is an
extreme understatement. We have
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of great need by our fellow
human beings.

In fact, according to George Maul, a Florida Tech oceanographer, when asked if a tsunami could hit the United States, he replied, "Absolutely. It happened in the past and they will happen again in the future."

The West Coast
The West Coast is most at risk and experts say geological circumstances similar to those in southern Asia exist near the Pacific Northwest Coast. A rupture along the 680-mile fault known as the Cascadia subduction zone, which is located uncomfortably close to the West Coast (just 50 miles offshore), could lead to a tsunami that could hit Northern California, Washington, Oregon and British Columbia in 30 minutes or less.

Geologist Brian Atwater of the U.S. Geological Survey put it quite simply. "People need to know it could happen," he said.

In fact, in 1700 a giant tsunami did hit the West Coast after an 8.0 or greater earthquake hit the subjection zone. Sand deposits and other evidence of severe flooding indicate that the huge wave hit Oregon, Washington and British Columbia with devastating consequences.

As if that's not unsettling enough, back in 2000 a scientist on one news report said that they were expecting an earthquake along the fault line sometime in the "near future."

Giant tsunamis have hit the
United States in the past and
researchers say they will hit again
in the future. The Pacific Coast is
most at risk, but the Atlantic
Coast, Caribbean, Hawaii and
Alaska are all at risk, as well.

The East Coast
There's debate as to whether fault lines like those on the West Coast exist along the East Coast, which is why some say a tsunami is extremely unlikely to hit the Atlantic Coast. Others, like George Maul, who has been writing to the government to encourage some sort of tsunami warning system for the East Coast (none currently exists), are not so sure.

According to Maul, "The tsunami risk in the Pacific is significantly higher, but about one-fourth of the earth's tsunamis occur in the Atlantic Ocean. Most people aren't aware of that."

Computer models do show that the East Coast could be hit by a giant tsunami if a large volcanic eruption and landslide occurred in the Canary Islands, but some researchers say that is only likely to occur once every 10,000 years. Others believe the threat is real and should be taken more seriously, especially considering that no warning system is in place.

Sue Bilek, an earthquake and tsunami expert at New Mexico Tech, said "On the East Coast, there's no subduction zones like that [on the West Coast], but you could get a tsunami there from a giant landslide into the ocean."

The Gulf Coast, Hawaii and Alaska
"There's another [subduction] zone like that near the Caribbean," Bilek said, and there's no telling when underwater movements could occur. While the Pacific Ocean has an elaborate monitoring system (did you know there's a Pacific Tsunami Warning Center?) to alert scientists when tsunamis and other shifts in water level have occurred, the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean have no such monitors (the Caribbean Sea has one but it only protects U.S. regions in that area including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands).

Tsunami warning centers have also been set up in Alaska and Hawaii. Hawaii's biggest threat is from a tsunami that would come across the Pacific, said Gerard Fryer, a geophysicist at the University of Hawaii, but a tsunami could also occur from an earthquake beneath the local Mauna Loa or Kilauea volcanoes.

Is Prevention Possible?
It isn't possible to stop a tsunami from occurring, but if warning systems such as those in the Pacific Ocean are in place, and provided the tsunami originates far off coast, residents could be warned hours ahead of impact and given plenty of time to evacuate. However, if no warning system exists, or if the tsunami originates close to shore, there may be no warning at all.

If you are in a tsunami-prone region, paying attention to any early warning signs could mean the difference between life and death. These are subtle but include:

  • The sea suddenly "opening up," leaving lots of fish and marine life behind (the water will then rush back in a few minutes later)
  • Signs put up instructing people how to get to higher ground in the event of an earthquake (Puerto Rico uses these, for instance)
  • Bullhorns, alarms or other sirens sounding on beaches—this means you should immediately get off the beach (this is one reason why Hawaii has bullhorns on beaches)
  • Always take warnings seriously and act quickly, don't delay or try to "watch the storm"

Tsunamis can hit with no warning
at all. When visiting coastal
regions, pay attention to signs
like these that instruct you what
to do in case of an emergency.

And in the event you find yourself on the ground near a coast when an earthquake hits:

  • Get to higher ground immediately, even if you don't think you're in danger (tsunamis can appear within minutes)
  • Travel on foot, not by car or bus
  • If higher ground isn't around, move inland as far, and as quickly, as possible
  • Once inland, don't go back to the coast (waves that are even larger than the first can occur later)
  • Wait for an "all clear" signal by radio, TV or other communication device

Red Nova News

The Albuquerque Tribune

Elites TV

CBS News

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