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

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals 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.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More