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Tsunamis Due to hit U.S. Pacific Coast

Little damage expected in the U.S. from the Japan quake, but West Coast states' tsunami response plans will be tested.

Following the 8.9 earthquake in Japan overnight U.S. Pacific Time, the U.S. West Coast is bracing for Tsunamis to hit starting about 7:30 a.m. Pacific, 10:30 Eastern and continuing for about an hour as waves move south on the California coast.

Visitors to the Oregon Coast are familiar with the many tsunami warnings that direct drivers and pedestrians to higher ground. Those signs are a small part of a larger tsunami warning system that has kicked into action today. Acording to Portland television station KATU, officials have decided to activate sirens in low-lying spots on the coast this morning. Officials predict waves of 2 to 4 feet along the coast.

The State of Washington's emergency management officials were attempting limited evacuations of two coastal counties, using a reverse 911 system that calls residents, according to the Seattle Times.

Similar official actions in Hawaii had left the beaches and other low-lying areas desolate earlier this morning as the Japan quake's tsunami swells passed through the Pacific archipelago. According to the Seattle Times, "waves about 3 feet high were recorded on Oahu and Kauai, and officials warned that the waves would continue and could become larger."

Waves are expected to be smaller further down the U.S. coast, and are not expected to cause any damage in California. The massive official response may seem excessive for relatively small waves. However, even small swells at unexpected times and places can sweep away people, automobiles and structures. For that reason, officials in California have considered shutting down stretches of highway and the San Francisco area BART transit system. Also, limited experience of major tsunami events counsels caution, suggests the Seattle Times story earlier cited:

Scientists acknowledged they overstated the threat but defended their actions, saying they took the proper steps and learned the lessons of the 2004 Indonesian tsunami that killed thousands of people who didn't get enough warning.

If nothing else, the response of officials down the U.S. West Coast will be a test of the tsunami response system and practice for responding to more severe events.

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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