First Grays Harbor County responders preparing for tsunamis

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by GLENN FARLEY / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @GlennFarley

KING5.com

Posted on March 24, 2010 at 7:05 PM

SATSOP, Wash. - In Satsop, first responders from around Grays Harbor county practice getting ready for a tsunami.

"I guarantee this is a realistic scenario,"  said Charles Wallace, Grays Harbor County's deputy emergency management director.

He's talking to first responders, police chiefs, fire chiefs, members of the coast guard and public health. The reason is that Grays Harbor gets a front-row seat when it comes to the threat from tsunamis.

In December 2004, a massive earthquake triggered a tsunami that was tracked around the world, but the damage was done mostly to countries around the Indian Ocean. More than a quarter million people died.

Just last month in Chile, an 8.8 magnitude quake triggered a tsunami that wiped out villages along the Pacific coast. But Chile was prepared because they've suffered tsunamis before - as recently as 1960. The combined death toll in Chile from the combined disaster is around 1,000.

"Many times when these kinds of things happen, we tend to focus on what we are responsible for," said Dennis Benn, the fire chief from Westport.

Westport has dealt with tsunami watches and warnings before. The idea behind these so-called "table top exercises" is to get people with various agencies to coordinate better, to make sure all the cities, fire districts, police departments are working together, not at cross purposes.

Could, for example, evacuation routes out of Westport be routed around Aberdeen to make sure traffic trying to get out of  Aberdeen does not back up?

The three scenarios reviewed in the room ranged from how to prepare during a tsunami watch to an actual tsunami that inundates lowlands in the country. Every table had a map showing not only the immediate coastal areas that would flood, but how tsunami waves would go miles up nearby rivers inundating land miles away from the coast.

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