Earthquake experts today cautioned that while rare, a large tsunami could have a significant impact on Southern California's coastal areas and urged residents to prepare for such an event as part of National Tsunami Preparedness Week.
"Knowing what to do when you hear that warning is essential to anyone that ever visits the beach," Lucy Jones, who studies earthquakes and tsunamis for the United States Geological Survey, said at a special event at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach tonight.
"If you are at the beach and you feel strong earthquake shaking, leave the beach. The downside is you miss a day at the beach, the upside is your life."
Jones, who recently headed a federally-funded study that modeled a potential tsunami's impact on California, said that unlike earthquakes, officials can usually give plenty of advanced warning of an approaching tsunami. Jones based her models off a massive magnitude 9.2 Alaskan earthquake that struck 50 years ago and caused California's largest-recorded tsunami event.
Jones estimated that around 90,000 people could live in a tsunami's inundation zone if the wave were to strike California during the day. To that end, cities across California on Thursday will host "tsunami walks" to teach the public that simply walking to higher ground will save lives.
"If you are more than five feet above sea level, you are safe," Jones said. "If they just all walk out of the zone, we won't have any casualties."
Models created by Jones and her team estimate that a tsunami could trigger a sudden 5-10 foot increase in sea level that would put low-lying areas such as Venice Beach and Huntington Beach most at risk. In addition, ports and harbors would fall victim to extremely strong and damaging currents, according to USC Tsunami Center's Patrick Lynett.
"The ports and harbors really have to design for earthquake hazards, but they also have to understand their tsunami hazards so that if they can withstand a large earthquake, they also need to withstand the 50-year tsunami event that also comes in and generates strong currents," Lynett said.
"I think for most people, tsunamis are a second thought, but for people who live next to the coast, they can't be a second thought."
Jeff Reeb, the director of the Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management, also emphasized the importance of tsunami preparedness, but said the public shouldn't live in fear of one.
"A large tsunami is a very rare event but we also see that even though rare, the risk it poses in the way it damages property and life is high," Reeb said.
"We want people to remain calm and realize that it is not something that is going to happen frequently, but if it does happen, heed the warnings and alerts and act appropriately."
Today's tsunami presentation will be available for the public to view online on the Aquarium of the Pacific's website. Tsunami Walks will take place across California on Thursday, including a planned walk at 9 a.m. in Huntington Beach, officials said.
--City News Service