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News arrow News arrow Local News arrow OFFICIALS PREPARE FOR WORST-CASE TSUNAMI

OFFICIALS PREPARE FOR WORST-CASE TSUNAMI Print E-mail
October 02, 2001 11:00 pm
The map above represents the worst-case scenario for a tsunami caused by an undersea earthquake. ().
The map above represents the worst-case scenario for a tsunami caused by an undersea earthquake. ().

By WILLIAM LUNDQUIST

At 9 a.m., Oct. 30, tsunami warning sirens will blare at the port, emergency responders will scramble and some Red Cross shelters will open.

Barring an incredible coincidence of nature, however, no giant wave will strike Curry County.

The ?disaster? will be a countywide exercise organized by Curry County Emergency Services Coordinator Mike Murphy.

He hopes to involve fire agencies, port districts, the U.S. Coast Guard, 911 centers, police agencies, medical providers, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

The scenario will begin around 9 a.m. as if the county received a tsunami watch through normal channels.

The watch will be upgraded to a warning when wave arrival time is three hours out. At each stage, agencies have been asked to go through the steps in their plans.

In the scenario, significant waves will arrive, but not cause much damage. The exercise should be over by 1 p.m.

?This scenario is one of the most likely emergencies to strike Curry County,? Murphy told the Citizens for Emergency Preparedness at their Brookings meeting Wednesday.

He said Curry County is required to conduct emergency exercises at least once a year. Murphy chose not to do a domestic preparedness (terrorist) exercise because ?you can?t win.?

?We can have some success preparing for a tsunami,? he said.

Murphy wants all agencies to participate in the exercise. He designed it to take place in emergency response locations throughout the county, instead of centering it around the county?s Emergency Operations Center.

He doesn?t look at exercises as tests to pass or fail, but as ways to learn how to improve plans or training.

Because emergency responders may be on the move all over the county, Murphy doesn?t want people to think there is a real tsunami happening.

All messages sent during the exercise will make it clear that it is just an exercise. Murphy asked agencies to be cautious to not alarm the public with lights, sirens, public address systems or mock communications to the public.

?Remember, there are lots of scanners out there,? he said.

Responders will go through their procedures as if the situation is real, however. Fire departments have been asked to drive by their low-lying areas to see if they could evacuate people in a real tsunami warning within two or three hours.

Murphy encouraged the local Red Cross to open one of its designated shelters during the exercise. Brookings Red Cross worker Doug Johnson said there is currently no Red Cross chapter in either Gold Beach or Port Orford.

He said Gold Beach may have more trained medical and emergency responders than anywhere else in Curry County, but they are not organized into a Red Cross chapter.

?You have to run with what you?ve got,? said Murphy. ?You can only do what you can do. You can?t drag people to volunteer.?

He also knows he can?t make agencies participate in the exercise, but he reminded them, ?When the real thing occurs, participation will not be optional.?

He invited agencies to call him at (541) 247-7011, ext. 208.

Murphy also displayed copies of a new tsunami evacuation map and brochure published by the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries.

The state provided only about 100 copies, so the Citizens for Emergency Preparedness would like to find a way to print more and insert them in newspapers.

The only areas threatened by tsunamis in Brookings are narrow strips of beach.

Harbor is a different story. Homes on both sides of Oceanview Drive are in the evacuation zone.

The entire port area could be inundated, and a tsunami would travel far up the Chetco River.

The map shows a worst-case scenario for a tsunami caused by an undersea earthquake near the Oregon coast. It is intended for emergency response, not for site-specific planning.

?The important thing is getting people up to (highway) 101, off low-lying areas,? said Murphy.

The highway is above the evacuation zone in all parts of Brookings and Harbor, except where it crosses the river.

Murphy said he wouldn?t care if people got up to the highway and just cruised around. At least they?d be safe.

The problem, he said, would be keeping both ends of Lower Harbor Road from plugging up in an evacuation. The road is the sole access to the port.

Murphy suggested evacuating traffic up both traffic lanes at each end of the road, but there is no one available to direct traffic.

He said the few police officers and sheriff?s deputies in Curry County would have their hands full in a real emergency.

Johnson said emergency service people can?t be committed to anything but emergency service. It may fall to port personnel to direct people out of the facility.

Murphy worries, however, that people in the RV park at the port won?t abandon their $100,000 RVs and take their cars up to safety.

He?s afraid they will take too much time getting their RVs ready to roll, and will then plug up both ends of the road with them.

Murphy also fears for those who run to the beach to watch whenever a tsunami warning is issued.

?We can?t make people leave the beach,? he said, ?just give information.?

?We can keep people out,? he said, ?but if they?re already there, we can?t make them leave. We have no personnel to enforce evacuation, and no authority.?

The brochure explains that a tsunami wave is usually caused by a displacement of the ocean floor by an undersea earthquake.

Typical Pacific ocean tsunamis are between 20 and 45 feet high at the shoreline, though they can be 100 feet high or more.

Near shore earthquakes can send a tsunami onshore within 15 to 20 minutes. The earthquake itself may be the only warning people get.

Tsunamis caused by undersea earthquakes far off the coast may take hours to reach shore, giving time for official warnings and evacuation.

People in isolated areas who do not hear the warnings should be ready to move to higher ground if they see any sudden change in sea level.

The brochure also cautions people that a tsunami is a series of waves which may keep arriving for hours. Wait for the official ?all clear.?

In Brookings, people in the evacuation zone should move to safety up Center, Wharf, Tanbark or Del Norte streets.

In Harbor, move toward U.S. Highway 101 along Pedrioli, Olsen, Wenbourne, Benham, Driftwood or Shopping Center streets.

 

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