News / USA

US West Coast Residents Prep for 'Big One'

Quake and tsunami fears have coastal towns considering man-made refuge towers

This is an artist's rendering of the proposed tsunami shelter/new city hall that officials hope to build in Cannon Beach, Oregon.
This is an artist's rendering of the proposed tsunami shelter/new city hall that officials hope to build in Cannon Beach, Oregon.

Multimedia

Audio
Tom Banse

The horrible, gripping images of destruction from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami are still on the minds of everyone living in the string of beach towns that dot the rugged Pacific coastlines of Oregon and Washington State.

In Westport, Washington, "high ground" is three long lines of low beach dunes. If the worst came to pass, most people would want to be a little bit higher.

Refuge towers

"You look at some of those pictures and you could just picture Westport or Grayland, the same thing. It would just sweep right across the peninsulas," says retiree Linda Orgel, one of hundreds of coastal residents spurred to become better prepared.

That interest is being channeled into planning and design meetings for a possible series of man-made refuge towers.

The roof of this building in Minamisanriku, Japan was a designated safe haven, but it proved insufficiently high. Around 10 people managed to cling to life there, but 20 others were swept away.
The roof of this building in Minamisanriku, Japan was a designated safe haven, but it proved insufficiently high. Around 10 people managed to cling to life there, but 20 others were swept away.

Westport apartment manager Harold Gray assumes when the big one hits, the roads leading inland or to the hills will be impassable. "We live down toward the docks. You wouldn’t have the time to get to high ground. It just wouldn’t happen. This gives us another option, which is what we need because high ground is far away."

A four-year federal grant to Washington State’s Emergency Management Division is paying for conceptual design work on so-called "vertical evacuation structures." Examples could include a tower that doubles as a bird-viewing or whale-watching platform. Another possibility is to build a tall earthen berm along a sports field that could also have bleachers on it.

Multiple-use structures

The University of Washington is helping to facilitate community brainstorming in low- lying towns along the Pacific coast. The  structures need to have multiple uses.

"These towers really can’t be single purpose to have any lasting effect," says Bob Freitag, the university’s hazard mitigation expert. "They would be ignored. They’ll be an eyesore. They have to be part of the community."

Artist’s rendering of possible tower safe haven in Long Beach, Washington.
Artist’s rendering of possible tower safe haven in Long Beach, Washington.

In Southwest Washington’s Pacific County, meeting-goers decided they wanted 13 berms, five towers and two parking garages spaced along the coastline to give people the means to shelter from a tsunami.

The only place in the world that’s actually done this sort of thing is Japan. The March 11 tsunami provided the first real-world test of tsunami evacuation structures.

Real-world test

Coincidentally,  University of Washington tsunami researcher Jody Bourgeois was in northern Japan at the time.

Bourgeois says fleeing up a reinforced concrete building seems to have provided safe refuge from the rushing, rising water - most of the time. "In some cases the building was not as high as the tsunami, which was larger than the design was."

People who ran to the fourth floor of this apartment building in Minamisanriku, Japan survived the tsunami.
People who ran to the fourth floor of this apartment building in Minamisanriku, Japan survived the tsunami.

According to Bourgeois, the tsunami overtopped a three-story office building in the town of Minamisanriku. The structure had been designated as a safe haven, but around 20 people were swept away.

"I would say if you’re going to build a vertical evacuation structure, the major cost would be in the structure itself," she says.  "Adding another floor is not the major cost. So I guess after this event I would say, add another floor. Make it higher."

None of the Pacific Northwest beach towns thinking about this has the money to build a tsunami-safe haven. But first things first, says Washington Emergency Management’s John Schelling. "In my experience, it is really difficult to obtain any kind of resources or funding without having a plan. That is really what this project is designed to do."

Seaside, Oregon is another vulnerable place. Town officials are discussing whether the roof of an expanded convention center could double as a tsunami refuge.

In Cannon Beach, Oregon, some residents are pressing to elevate a new city hall on sturdy concrete stilts. As for the people of Japan, a more detailed survey of what worked and what didn’t during the recent disaster awaits an "all clear" from emergency responders. They haven’t yet finished recovering bodies from the sea of rubble the tsunami left behind.

You May Like

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

Video One Year After Massacre, Iraq’s Yazidis a Broken People

Minority community still recovering from devastating assault by IS militants which spurred massive outrage More

‘Malvertisements’ Undermine Internet Trust

Hackers increasingly prey on users' trust of major websites to delivery malicious software More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs