Japan tsunami a wake-up call for US west coast
Japan’s earthquake and tsunami is alerting the US west coast that the same kind of thing could happen there. Experts who study the earth’s shifting crust say the “big one” may be past due.
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For now, communities and government agencies are responding to the damages caused along parts of the west coast by the tsunami that raced at high speed across the Pacific Ocean from Japan.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Japan's 9.0 earthquake
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That included some $15 million in damages to Santa Cruz harbor south of San Francisco, caused by two rolling surges that occurred about three hours apart Friday morning. An estimated 30-40 boats were damaged or destroyed.
Some areas were evacuated, portions of coastal highways were closed, and some schools were closed. Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency for Del Norte, Humboldt, San Mateo, and Santa Cruz counties in California.
In all, it was the worst tsunami damage along the west coast since the 1964 Good Friday 9.2 earthquake in Alaska, which triggered a tsunami that killed 17 people, 11 of them in Crescent City, near the Oregon border.
In Crescent City this time, there was considerable damage to port facilities, an 8-foot wave destroyed 35 boats, and one man was swept out to sea and apparently lost. Three other sight-seers were injured in the waves.
Crescent City seems to be the tsunami capital of the continental United States, having experienced 31 over the past century. Why is it so vulnerable to tsunamis?
“Apparently the main culprit is the Mendocino Fracture Zone, an underwater elevation extending westward that guides tsunamis into deeper water, where they pick up speed as they approach the mainland,” writes Timothy Noah in Slate. “The West Coast's topography around Crescent City curves inland, which intensifies a tsunami's effect, and the shoreline of Crescent City itself is (as the name suggests) a curve within that curve.”
Just north of the California-Oregon border, the town of Brookings saw half its harbor facility destroyed and up to 10 boats sunk, according to the Associated Press.