Five swept by waves as tsunami hits West Coast

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by Associated Press and KING 5 News Staff

KING5.com

Posted on March 11, 2011 at 5:21 AM

Updated Friday, Mar 11 at 4:56 PM

SEASIDE, Ore. -- A tsunami triggered by a 8.9 magnitude earthquake in Japan sank several boats in Brookings harbor on Friday, swept half a dozen others out to sea and washed into the ocean four people who were later rescued, said authorities in Southern Oregon.

Meanwhile,  a man who was taking photos of the tsunami waves was swept out to sea in Northern California.  After a search by Coast Guard officials, Del Norte County Sheriff's Office later confirmed him dead.
  
Much of the commercial part of the Brookings harbor was destroyed, said Curry County Sheriff John Bishop.
  
One man with a history of heart problems was found dead aboard a commercial vessel. It was unclear exactly how he died but it was likely from natural causes, Bishop said.
  
The damage was the worst reported in Oregon, as waves generated by an earthquake off Japan rolled across the Pacific.
  
Along most of the Oregon coast, people headed for high ground in the early morning and began returning home around noon.
  
The damage reports from Brookings emerged late in the morning, after state officials said it appeared Oregon had escaped major harm.
  
Four people who went to a beach north of Brookings to watch the waves were instead swept into the sea, but all survived, Bishop said. Two got out on their own and the other two were rescued.

In the harbor at Brookings, he said, damages will be in the millions of dollars. None of the vessels that were swept out to sea had people aboard, he said.
  
"The port is in total disarray," he told The Associated Press at midday Friday as the surges continued. "Most of the front part of the commercial basin is gone."
  
The man who was found dead was described as a "live-aboard" on the vessel, Bishop said. 
 
Gov. John Kitzhaber held a press conference, at which he and other state leaders said preparations for the waves had gone well.
  
State geologist Vicki McConnell warned that Oregon faces the risk of a similar quake much closer to home, with much less notice, in an unstable area just off the Oregon coast called a subduction zone.
  
The waves were larger the farther south they hit the Oregon coast.
  
North of Brookings in the Coos County town Port Orford, waves measured at 3.7 feet higher than the normal sea level but caused no damage as the water surged back and forth between the levels for high and low tide.

Waves prompt evacuations along Washington coast

The National Weather Service said the first wave of the tsunami to hit the Washington Coast just after 7 a.m. measured 1.7 feet at La Push, about half a foot at Neah Bay and Port Angeles, and 1.3 feet at Westport.

The tsunami advisory remained in effect for the Washington Coast and more waves were expected, said Kirby Cook, science and operations officer for the National Weather Service in Seattle. More waves were landing in California and that meant Washington and Oregon could expect more as well.

The advisory would remain in effect until the tsunami center in Alaska called it off, Cook said. The waves were triggered by an 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Japan.

About 60 people had evacuated to Grays Harbor Fire District No. 8 in Moclips. Volunteer firefighter Cathy Bisiack said a group of mostly elderly residents were enjoying a pancake breakfast and watching the news on TV when the waves started to hit the Washington Coast.

In Alaska, the tsunami caused a wave just over 5 feet at Shemya in the Aleutian Islands 1,200 miles southwest of Anchorage.

During the advisory, residents around Moclips, Pacific Beach, Iron Springs and Taholah who live close to the ocean were asked to move to higher ground, the Grays Harbor Emergency Management agency said.

Harper says the Quinault Indians were looking at limited evacuations in the Taholah area. Farther north, members of the Makah and Hoh Indian tribes were coordinating their public safety efforts with Jefferson County.

In southwest Washington's Pacific County, Sheriff Scott Johnson said the county activated its reverse 911 system, phoning residents on the coast and in low-lying areas and asking them to move to higher ground.

In light of the advisory, an orderly evacuation was under way before dawn in Long Beach, Ilwaco and Ocean Park, Johnson said.

"We certainly don't want to cry wolf," he said. "We just have to hope we're doing the right thing based on our information. We don't want to be wrong and have people hurt or killed.

"In the last 25-30 years, this is the second time I've been involved in an evacuation for this reason," the sheriff added.

Within minutes, a steady stream of cars was pulling to Mark and Vicki Whitman's combination store and gas station on the edge of town. "People are getting gas so they can get the hell out," Mark Whitman said.

About 4 miles east of Long Beach, dozens of cars lined the shoulders of Highway 101on the closest higher ground available.

"I'm really not too worried, but we live close enough to the beach that I figured we might as well go and be safe," said Mary Hersey, a 20-year- resident of the Long Beach peninsula. Hersey said when she heard of the advisory, it took her only a few minutes to gather up her two dogs, a cat, daughter and grandson and head for high ground.

Still, many people remained in Long Beach, noting that the tsunami siren system hadn't sounded.

Some Long Beach residents noted that early reports from Hawaii indicated the tsunami might not be as large as first feared.

Access roads to beach were closed, but the beach was nearly, but not entirely, deserted.

Matt Winters, editor of the local weekly, the Chinook Observer, watched the wave action from a boardwalk above the beach and said he'd seen nothing unusual.

Major roads remained open in the peninsula.

At Ilwaco Middle/High School, the area's designated evacuation site during emergencies, between 400-500 evacuaees spent the night.

"Some of the people were really frightened. You can imagine being awakened in the middle of the night and you hear tsunami and you don't know what's going on," said Marc Simmons, a co-principal at the school.

Television news coverage heightened their concern, he said.

"I think the images of what happened in Japan got people thinking, 'If we got even half of that, how bad it would be.',"

At the school, some of those most concerned were calmed by having a place to go and people to be with, Simmons said.

Classes were canceled for the day, but many school employees came to help those who left their homes.The school provided the evacuees food that would have been served at school Friday.

No reports of damage in Alaska

Alaska Emergency Management says the tsunami from the Japanese earthquake caused a 5.1-foot wave at Shemya, 1.5-foot at Adak, and 1.6-foot at Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands. Shemya is 1,200 miles southwest of Anchorage.

Emergency Management Specialist David Lee at Fort Richardson says there are no reports of damage and no significant damage expected on the coast of Alaska, although that could still depend on the surge in different areas.

The Alaska Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning for the coastal areas of Alaska from Attu to Amchitka Pass in the Aleutians and an advisory from Amchitka Pass along the West Coast to Oregon.

 

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