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Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe, partners unveil new tsunami evacuation tower

On Friday, the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe and partners unveiled a vertical evacuation tower meant to save hundreds in the case of a tsunami.

TOKELAND, Wash. — A new, first-of-its-kind freestanding vertical evacuation tower in Tokeland aims to save hundreds of lives in the case of a tsunami. 

The Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe, alongside partners from the Washington State Emergency Management Hazard Mitigation team, advisors from the University of Washington, FEMA, and other agencies, unveiled the tower on Friday.

Decades ago, the tribe's concerns about the threat of a tsunami caused it to identify nearby high ground - but it wanted to do more. By 2017, the Tribe decided it wanted a tower modeled similar to those used in Japan. 

For years, tribal leaders worked with the University of Washington and local, state and federal agencies to model a tower, pursue grant funding, and begin work on the project. 

"We helped to change the atmosphere of being helpless victims to one of knowing we can and will survive if we all work together," said Lee Shipman, an emergency management director and Tribal elder of the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe. 

Tribal council members awarded Shipman Friday, noting that they'd be calling the evacuation tower "Auntie Lee" as a tribute to her years of work and collaboration to get the project completed. 

The Tribe said studies revealed a wave as high as 10 feet travelling at high speed could make landfall in the Shoalwater Bay/Tokeland area within 10-22 minutes following an 8 to 9 magnitude earthquake. KING 5 was there as crews broke ground on the project, which was built about 1.4 miles from the Tribal Center in an area where it can be accessed by both Tribal and non-tribal residents. 

Washington is also home to the country's first tsunami-resistant building; the Ocosta School District's Elementary School in Westport. The building has four staircases that reach the roof. The building is built strongly enough to survive crushing waves. 

You can learn more about tsunami preparedness in the state of Washington here.  

WATCH: Tsunami waves would reach Seattle within minutes after earthquake 

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