Facebook Twitter

Big waves could slam West Coast, experts say

SHARE Big waves could slam West Coast, experts say

The catastrophic seismic waves that hit Papua New Guinea last week could be repeated anywhere along the West Coast of the United States, experts say.

As recently as 1964, a seismic wave hit the coast of California, killing 11 people in Crescent City.To prepare for such a disaster, state and federal officials and scientists in Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington are establishing a deep-ocean array of seismographs that can provide warnings of seismic waves to the West Coast.

In addition, they are trying to identify West Coast harbors, coastal towns and bays most vulnerable to seismic waves.

Three seismic waves, or tsunamis, hit Papua New Guinea on July 17, killing at least 1,300 and perhaps as many as 6,000 people.

Spawned by undersea earthquakes, the wave "might be a wake-up call for people living near the ocean in earthquake-prone areas," said oceanographer and seismic wave expert Eddie Bernard.

"I'm not saying this as an alarmist, I'm saying it as a point of fact: This is a hazard you need to be concerned about, just as you need to be concerned about other hazards in your everyday life," Bernard said.

By 2001, scientists from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration expect to finish installing six tsunami-detecting buoys in deep Pacific waters, said Bernard, who chairs the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program run by NOAA.

Much of the wave-awareness program stems from 1992, when a 7.1-magnitude quake in the Cape Mendocino-Petrolia area caused a relatively harmless seismic wave.