By Kent Gray

Triplicate staff writer

A world-renowned expert on tsunami defense visited Crescent City yesterday to study its history and geography.

Nobuo Shuto, a professor at the Iwate Prefectural University in Japan, was in Seattle last week for the International Tsunami Symposium when he was invited to Crescent City by local tsunami experts.

The most difficult thing in tsunami defense is the human factor: people, said Shuto as he took a break outside the Del Norte County Historical Society Museum.

The tsunami is a very, very infrequent phenomena, so often people forget the effects of a tsunami. You might experience a tsunami, then after 10 or 15 years pass by, people begin to say, We havent had this sort of disaster in a long time maybe we are safe now, Shuto said.

Reminding the public about tsunami dangers in areas where they are likely was the theme Shuto returned to most often. And Crescent City, which has a history of several tsunamis in the 20th century, including a significant one in 1964, is overdue for the next one, experts say.

My country is more frequently attacked by tsunamis so people there have more of a memory better than your people. What both need is public education, so they dont forget the reality of tsunamis after generations. Like here, you had a major tsunami 300 years ago ... but maybe its a mistake for me to mention that. It might not be good for tourism, Shuto laughed.

The tsunami of 1700 along Del Norte Countys coast deposited five times more silt than the 1964 tsunami. It also reached farther inland. Tsunamis of this magnitude are very rare, according to geologist Lori Dengler, a professor at Humboldt State University. She said preparing for such a huge wave may depend on a persons equilibrium.

Dengler said the 1700 tsunami was probably the result of movement along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, which is a large fault off the coast of Del Norte County and southern Oregon. An earthquake in that zone, large enough to create a tsunami, would likely knock people off their feet in Crescent City, according to Dengler.

When asked how Crescent City compares with Japanese cities in tsunami preparedness, Shuto said the two locations had too many differences to make an easy association.

It depends on the characteristics of your society and on the natural conditions, Shuto said. The determination of these two determine the action you take. Theres no one way to prepare people from danger; there are many. Which one do you take?

Shuto said some Japanese cities have installed sheer walls to divert tsunami waves, but people there have moved outside the walls, exposing themselves to a potential disaster.

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Shuto said in the United States, evacuation may be the best solution, when combined with our geography and early-warning systems.

People consider the large sheer walls (as being) not economically feasible and inconvenient for daily life. In this country, it is easier for your people to relocate to a safer area than in Japan.

Dengler, who hosted Shuto and his entourage in Del Norte County, said Crescent City received some attention at the symposium.

Recently, were just beginning to realize that Crescent City wasnt thoroughly studied after the 1964 tsunami, aside from this fabulous book, Dengler said in regards to Wally Griffins 1984 digest Dark Disaster, which contains photos and stories from the 1964 tsunami.

Dengler said more photographs are needed for a before-and-after study to determine the previous landscape and building types that suffered the most damage.

Dengler recently returned from Peru, where an 8.4 earthquake in the Pacific Ocean there last June the largest in the world in the past 25 years created a tsunami that ravaged the countrys coastline.

A tsunami watch was issued in California following the Peru quake, but the tsunami effect in Crescent City was only 40 centimeters, according to Dengler.

Were now beginning to pay more attention to landslides and slumps that can also cause significant tsunamis, Dengler said of the symposiums focus.

A slump, or an underwater landslide, created the 1998 tsunami in Papua New Guinea. The ensuing 45-foot wave killed and injured 2,000 people on the island nation.