Thousands Take Part in Ore. Tsunami Drill May 31, 2012 By Jeff Barnard, The Associated Press
COOS BAY, Oregon - Inspired by last year`s tsunami in Japan, several thousand people on the southern Oregon Coast took part in their first tsunami evacuation drill, stopping what they were doing and walking uphill to assembly points, where volunteers handed out bottles of water and grab-bags of essentials.
Unlike a real tsunami, there were no sirens and no tremors from a massive offshore earthquake on Thursday in the towns of Coos Bay, North Bend and Charleston.
But after weeks of door-to-door canvassing, advertising, and community meetings, people knew it was coming.
Most who took part were schoolchildren, like those at Blossom Gulch Elementary School in Coos Bay, where 400 kids crawled under tables and pretended the ground was shaking.
Then they lined up with their teachers and walked up the hill to the high school football field, where principal Jodi O`Mara congratulated them on "an awesome job."
Coos Bay Fire Chief Stan Gibson said the vivid TV images of last year`s tsunami in Japan have made people on the Oregon Coast take the possibility much more seriously than about 10 years ago, when new signs laying out tsunami evacuation routes were greeted with complaints they would just scare the tourists.
"Seeing seawalls being breached, seeing buildings and cars being tossed around like nothing, I think that really got peoples` attention," he said.
The 2004 tsunami in Sumatra triggered federal legislation that is helping the West Coast get ready for a big one, paying for a new set of tsunami maps in Oregon, and evacuation drills in coastal communities up and down the coast, said Rick Wilson, a senior engineering geologist with the California Geological Survey.
In the Coos Bay area, the program has been paying for the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries to send community outreach teams door-to-door and hold meetings to hand out evacuation maps, teach people the threats from local and distant tsunamis, and what preparations they should make, said local spokesman Mikel Chavez.
All that preparation culminated at 1:55 p.m. Thursday when an announcement went out over the radio. Organizers hoped several thousand people at schools, businesses and government offices would grab a few essentials, a bottle of water, and walk to higher ground. Coos Bay, North Bend and Charleston are taking part.
When the tsunami from Japan hit last year, U.S. residents had hours to get ready, and severe damage was limited to harbors such as Crescent City, California. One person was swept away and died.
The much bigger threat here is a megaquake from the Cascadia Subduction Zone, where two plates of the Earth`s crust butt together off the coast. When they slip, they could send a 40-foot (12-meter) surge of water moving at the speed of a jetliner into the Oregon coast, Northern California and Washington. After feeling the quake, people have about 20 minutes to reach higher ground. Authorities advise them to walk, because roads could be impassable and power lines down. Geologic evidence shows the zone jolts on average every 300 to 600 years, and the last one was 312 years ago.
By the time a surge works its way through the bay and into downtown, it would only be about three feet (a meter) deep, said Gibson.
That would still flood Blossom Gulch Elementary School. During the drill, more than 500 kids there ducked and covered under their desks, as if an earthquake was violently shaking the ground, said Vice Principal Jared Olsen. Then they filed outside and hike up the hill to the high school football field. Each had a number so they don`t get lost.
At Coast Guard Air Station North Bend, just 17 feet (5 meters) above sea level, one of the five helicopters would fly to higher ground at Southwest Oregon Community College, where students and staff would gather at assembly points. --- Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. --- Story image: Kindergartners ducking and taking cover under their desk at the Blossom Gulch Elementary School during a tsunami drill Thursday, May 31, 2012, in Coos Bay, Ore. AP Photo/Rick Bowmer What do you think of this story? Click here for comments or suggestions.