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PORTLAND, Ore. - Last year's tsunami in Southeast Asia was a wakeup call for those of us here in the Northwest.
We are overdue for a huge earthquake and a tsunami just as big as the one that killed thousands in southeast Asia on December 26, 2004.
Now the race is on to prepare people along the Northwest coast, especially since geologists say we are due for a magnitude 9.0 earthquake.
Early last year, KATU spent two months uncovering serious danger zones. In the investigation, we found broken sirens, emergency management officials in denial and huge communities that did not know where to go.
For example, while Seaside and Lincoln City had detailed evacuation maps, Astoria and Warrenton did not and as far as tourists go, many hotels provided no information at all about what to do in the event of a tsunami.
A year later, things have changed along the coast, where in a town like Seaside, a 100-foot tall tsunami could slam into town less than 20 minutes after a big earthquake.
However, Seaside is so big that it would take longer than 20 minutes to get from the downtown area to an area where there is high ground at about 75 feet above sea level.
Right now, two warning centers send out alerts if an earthquake off the coast might cause a tsunami.
If an earthquake strikes in Alaska or Japan, people would have several hours to evacuate before the wave hits.
However, an earthquake in the Cascadia subduction zone off the Oregon coast would hit in just minutes.
Right now, two buoys that warn the West Coast of approaching tsunamis are broken and have been for a year. One of them is 200 miles from the mouth of the Columbia River.
Harold Mofjeld is in charge of the federal tsunami buoy system and at the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle he and others are testing a network of new high-tech buoys that put a pressure sensor five miles down on the ocean floor.
However, he warns that these types of buoys should not be relied on as a form of protection.
"The buoys really don't protect the coastline," he says. "What they do is provide information."
In the next year and a half, 39 new buoys will warn emergency managers when a tsunami is racing across the ocean.
Also, scientists are racing to build computer models that will give emergency managers an idea of exactly when and where a tsunami will strike.
"We're trying to give them a tool they can use in real time and use in the decision-making process," says Diego Arcas, a tsunami modeler.
While a tsunami takes hours to travel across the ocean, the models take just minutes to determine where it will hit. In other words, it would result in fewer false alarms and help avoid unnecessary evacuations.
"If you think of it costing tens of millions of dollars to put it in place, one false alarm would pay for all of that," says Mofjeld.
Seaside, Lincoln City and several other weak spots along the coast are now spending money to beef up warning systems and mark evacuation routes.
However, most people who study tsunami dangers say people along the coast need to do a lot more to educate themselves about tsunami dangers.
Northwest Reality Check--Tsunami
http://www.katu.com/news/nw_tsunami.asp Excellent in-deth tsunami coverage all around... Kudos to KATU for all of their work on this most important issue for all costal communities, the globe over.
February 8, 2005
Tsunami: The 'worst case scenario' just got worse
- By Brian Barker, katu.com
Scientists who've just returned from Southeast Asia have made a startling discovery. They've found that the tsunami waves that hit Banda Aceh may have been twice as large as previously thought.
The new research could mean that scientists in the Northwest have underestimated how high tsunami waves will be when they slam into the West Coast.
"The maps we've drawn of inundation zones along the Pacific Coast may be wrong," says Vasily Titov, a geologist at the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle.
"This is huge news," said Dr. Andrew Moore, a geology professor at Kent State University. "We may need to re-think how we look at tsunamis."
Moore recently returned from studying the tsunami damage in Sumatra. What he and a team of scientists learned have shaken up what geologists around the world have thought about tsunami damage estimates.
Now those scientists are facing the prospect of creating new 'worst case scenario models' for their respective coastlines.
"We may need to re-draw our maps," says Oregon's tsunami preparation chief, Jay Wilson.
Wilson and geologist George Priest have labored for years to draw tsunami inundation maps of the Oregon coast.
"We drew those maps based on a 10 meter (32 feet) tall wave," says Titov. "Now it appears a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake could send thirty meter tall waves towards Oregon and Washington."
"It's really, really scary" says James Roddey, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries. "What happened in the Indian Ocean with this magnitude 9 earthquake and the tsunami is almost an exact parallel of what type of earthquake and tsunami we can expect if we get a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake."
Those maps show how high tsunami waves would engulf coastal communities and which areas could suffer damage in a worst case scenario tsunami. Now it appears, "our worst case scenario may not be the worst case scenario," Titov says.
Geologists originally believed the tsunami waves at Banda Aceh were roughly 30 feet tall. However, after researchers arrived, they discovered evidence that the waves eclipsed original estimates hitting as high as 100 feet.
Moore's research found the waves had to have been moving at more than 30 miles-per-hour when they hit the shore.
Originally, geologists believed a type of funnel effect created the high damage marks where the water is forced up through underwater canyons and exits at a higher speed.
"We originally thought this was caused by focusing, where underwater canyons or other topography would cause higher run-ups," says Moore. "But the damage was spread along far too wide an area along Sumatra's coast."
Moore and geologists from Japan and France found bark stripped off trees in places they did not expect, nearly 100 feet above sea level.
"This is significant because we originally thought the waves would only run up 35 feet above sea level," says Moore.
"If the waves were that much bigger there, they could be much bigger here too," says Wilson.
Scientists with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries drew tsunami inundation maps based on underwater topography and tsunami science that, up until the December 26 disaster in Southeast Asia, was cutting edge.
"There's a possibility a worst case scenario earthquake just off the coast could send a much bigger wave toward the Oregon coast," Wilson says.
Based on what researchers found in Sumatra, the wave that hits Oregon could be twice as large as previously thought.
Moore and his colleagues are still compiling their research and warn their findings are "â€¦all very preliminary," he says.
His data, along with data from other research teams, will then go through a complete peer review process, where other scientists will consider whether the conclusions have merit.
"I think the important thing on the West Coast is if the models they've drawn are off by 10 meters, on a relatively steep coast line, then the 30 feet estimate isn't a lot of difference," Moore says. "All that it really means is that you shouldn't take any line on any coast and build your house just above that line."
Room for error in any scientific estimate needs to be considered by everyone Moore says.
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