Alaskan Earthquake could Destroy California Coast - KMSP-TV

Alaskan Earthquake could Destroy California Coast

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We have been long aware of potential natural disasters the pose threat to the U.S. Earthquakes, Volcanoes, Hurricanes, Tornadoes… let's face it, the list goes on for a while. But until the recent events of the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 and then Japans' in 2011, these large wave events haven't really been on the radar…. until now. Researchers from the USGS (United States Geological Survey) released findings this past week that are eye openers to say the least. An earthquake as far away as the Aleutian Islands in Alaska could decimate the west coast of the U.S. leading to mass evacuations and tens of billions of dollars in damage. These findings prove that it doesn't take "the big one" (referring to the very large earthquake that is expected sometime in the future along California's San Andreas fault) to cause chaos along the Pacific Coast. More about this study from KTLA and the Huffington Post…

(Picture above… an estimated one-third of boats in California marinas would be damaged or sink if a massive tsunami hit the state, according to new study. (credit: USGS)

New research by the U.S. Geological Survey revealed that a large earthquake off the coast of Alaska could send a devastating tsunami towards California, causing the evacuation of nearly 1 million people and causing $10 billion in damage, a recent U.S. Geological Survey revealed.

USGS scientists met with state and local officials on Wednesday to discuss what might happen if a 9.1 earthquake -- similar to the one that struck Japan in 2011 -- occurred offshore of the Alaskan Peninsula. Researchers called the scenario "hypothetical, yet plausible," warning officials to prepare for the worst.

In the hypothetical scenario, researchers said waves of up to 24 feet high could batter the California coast.

"And this is not one wave. It won't even look like a wave, it's going to be surges," explained Dr. Lucy Jones, Chief Scientist of the USGS Multi-Hazards Demonstration Project, to NBC San Diego. "We're only going to have like three-and-a-half hours between the time we determine it really is a big tsunami coming and the time that the waves get here."

Areas worst affected would likely include the San Francisco Bay Area, Santa Cruz and Monterey, Paso Robles, Santa Maria and parts of Los Angeles and Orange County. The Oakland Airport and low-lying islands like Alameda in the Bay Area and Balboa in Newport Beach could be entirely underwater.

According to the study, all 20 of California's coastal counties — stretching from Del Norte to San Diego — would be impacted by a potential tsunami. Waves could hit Northern California in as little as four hours and would make their way down to San Diego in six hours.

(Image shows how current wave breaks in southern California marinas would fare with tsunami waves. The waves will funnel into these locations and likely be even larger.  But the walls themselves would be easily overtopped in Japan tsunami type scenario.)

Researchers said the waves could decimate the ports of Oakland, Los Angeles and Long Beach, and force the evacuation of more than 750,000 people. In the destruction, crude oil, fuel, sewage and other contaminants could be emptied into the open sea.

Fortunately, according to the survey, California's two nuclear plants would likely not be at risk.

"The idea is to say: Look, these are not distant events, these could actually happen here," Kathleen Tierney, director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, told the Los Angeles Times. "This is meant to get tsunamis on the public's radar."

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the survey utilized input from more than 150 specialists from universities, state and local governments and coastal industries.

(The image shows how the tsunami waves would progress southward across much of the Atlantic.)

The survey was part of a 12-chapter study, examining the potential effects of a large Alaskan earthquake in an effort to help officials better prepare for a large-scale disaster.

"The 2011 Tohoku earthquake was not anticipated, despite Japan having the best seismic and geodetic networks in the world and the best historical record in the world over the past 1,500 years," researchers said. "What was lacking was adequate paleogeologic data on prehistoric earthquakes and tsunamis, a data gap that also presently applies to the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands."

Researchers said that proper evaluation and preparedness could greatly lessen the extent of such a disaster.

"A number of steps can be taken by governments, businesses, and residents to help reduce the environmental impacts of tsunamis and to recover more quickly from these environmental impacts."

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