Special Report: Local tsunami indicates we're not ready

December 06, 2006 11:00 pm

By Cornelia de Bruin

Triplicate staff writer

Californians know that earthquakes and tsunamis happen, but the state Seismic Safety Commission doesn't think they know enough.

And some proof of that belief came in Crescent City following the Nov. 15 tsunami.

The state agency created a Tsunami Safety Committee to evaluate the state of tsunami readiness in California after the Dec. 26, 2004, disaster when a magnitude 9.3 earthquake occurred off the coast of Sumatra and sent waves reeling across the Indian Ocean.

The state Tsunami Safety Commission reported one year later that "Californians are not adequately educated about tsunamis and the risk they pose."

The report concluded that, "Many are unaware how to respond to natural or official tsunami warnings," and determined the existing tsunami warning system "has not achieved all of its objectives for several reasons."

Among the problems cited in the report were communications and agency coordination, more public education and multi-language education and printed information.

The conclusions were evident in Crescent City Nov. 15.

Extra fire department manpower was sent to Crescent City Harbor to restrict entry only to boat owners. Meanwhile, a steady stream of cars brought gawkers to the area.

Reporters at the scene described drivers as "zipping through" the harbor area. Had there been injuries or rescues in progress, they would have been in the way.

In contrast, the Japanese as children learn to automatically drop, hold and hang on during an earthquake, then run to higher land to avoid a tsunami.

"There is a natural tendency for people to go check it out," agreed Troy Nicolini of the National Weather Service's Eureka office. "People still go to the coast to watch tsunamis."