Friday, March 11, 2011

Sentinel Breaking News: Tsunami of March 11, 2011

By Charles Douglas
Humboldt Sentinel

This is Charles Douglas of the Humboldt Sentinel with a special report this 11th day of March, 2011.

As anyone who didn't sleep through the sirens in the Humboldt Bay area already knows, local public safety agencies were on full alert this morning and throughout the day as the North Coast braced for a tsunami resulting from the 8.9 magnitude earthquake that struck just off the coast of Japan near the coastal city of Sendai.

It's difficult to overstate the power of this megaquake, the 5th largest in world seismological history and the most powerful to strike Japan in modern history. This quake sent a 23-foot wall of water slamming against the Japanese coast, sweeping homes, factories and people aside and causing massive destruction, including a devastating fire at a petrochemical plant and even jeopardizing containment at a nuclear power plant.

The amount of radiation reached around 1,000 times the normal level in the control room of the No. 1 reactor of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said. Another report from Mark Crispin Miller suggests that radioactive vapor is being released at the plant to prevent an explosion which might result from the failure of its cooling system. Thousands of residents in the vicinity of the Fukushima plant have been evacuated according to a report posted at

The earthquake was preceded by a series of large foreshocks over the previous two days, beginning on March 9th with an M 7.2 event approximately 40 km from the March 11 earthquake, and continuing with a further 3 earthquakes greater than M 6 on the same day. Over 123 aftershocks have already been recorded, and preliminary reports suggest that this event has literally moved the earth axis 10cm and the coast of Japan by 2.4 Meters.

Here in Humboldt County the first wave surge crossed Highway 101 at Freshwater. The surge at Eureka's small boat basin was reported at 5', and apparently tossed some boats against each other. Onlookers gathered at the mouth of the Mad River to witness a small swell come ashore, but we were spared the worst of this disaster, with no damage or injuries in Humboldt County, according to Chief Administrative Officer Phillip Smith-Haynes, who was actually manning the phones at the Office of Emergency Services in Eureka where I spoke with him earlier today. Humboldt County opened an emergency shelter at Redwood Acres in Myrtletown and six evacuees were reported to be staying there earlier this afternoon.

Returning to town myself this morning, I noticed a stream of vehicles headed up State Highway 299, with Arcata Police Department roadblocks set up at the F, G and H Street intersections with Samoa Boulevard in an apparent evacuation of the low-lying South of Samoa neighborhood. Law enforcement also shut down westbound access to the Samoa Bridge this morning, but these evacuation orders have since been lifted. Nonetheless, business as usual was disrupted along coastal Humboldt County today, with many businesses in Old Town Eureka shut down due to fears of a larger evacuation order. I ran into Director of Public Works Tom Mattson in Old Town this morning, who said the county's emergency response system had swung into action before he even woke up this morning, with local beaches and coastal parks all rapidly sealed off by law enforcement, again with no reports of damage as yet.

Our neighbors to the north were not so fortunate, however, with several fatalities reported in Del Norte County, where the largest waves to hit the United States were recorded at Crescent City Harbor, topping 8 feet and crushing 35 boats along with the entire docking infrastructure, according to a report by our own Supervisor Mark Lovelace. The better part of the commercial fishing fleet put out to sea due to the warnings, and are on their way here to Humboldt Bay as they literally cannot return home to dock. The Coast Guard has an active search and rescue mission underway to look for an individual who was swept out to sea at the mouth of the Klamath River; two others who were also swept out were able to self-rescue.

Further south, at least 20 boats were sunk, 100 were damaged and $10 million worth of harbor infrastructure has been destroyed at Santa Cruz harbor. No reports of damage yet have come in from Mendocino or Sonoma Counties. The Associated Press is also reporting that four people were swept off a beach north of Brookings, Ore. Two got out of the water on their own and the others were rescued by law enforcement and fire officials. The Oregonian is reporting that 70% of the commercial harbor basin at Brookings has been destroyed.

Local viewers should be sure to tune in to Access Humboldt Channel 10 on Tuesday morning, as CAO Smith-Haynes has assured me that the local response to the tsunami warning will be on the agenda. While Phillip assured me that the overall response went pretty well, he noted that there were some minor glitches with local residents and even some county staff either not receiving the tsunami warning in a timely manner, or not being informed as to where they should evacuate to.

That's all for now from the Access Humboldt Media Center in Eureka. This is Charles Douglas of the Humboldt Sentinel reminding you to stay prepared. If there's an evacuation like this again, you need to know where to go, and you need to have your supplies ready to leave at a moment's notice.

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