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

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

1855 Slave Brochure Starkly Details Sale of Black Americans

Document lists entire families that were up for sale in New Orleans, offering graphic insight into the slavery trade More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs