Fears of similar disaster in Oregon as debris from Japanese tsunami washes ashore

Debris from the tragic 2011 tsunami in Japan has hit the west coast of North America, a year earlier than expected. Since April this year, bays along the coast in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California have received painful reminders of the Japanese tragedy, in the form of bottles, polystyrene, fishing ropes, and even a Harley Davidson.

Three months ago a 20m concrete dock was found in Newport completely in tact. It is thought that it had been washed across 3,500 miles of ocean from Tokyo Bay. Locals are sensitive to the memories such arrivals evokes for Japan. In the tsunami last year more than 15,000 people died and whole villages were dragged out into the ocean. One American said, “[the debris is] a reminder of what happened, so it’s not just trash. It was people’s belongings and people’s livelihoods and people’s homes.”

A glimmer of light has however been seen in the kind acts of the people who have attempted to return property found in amongst the debris back to its owners in Japan. Two volunteers involved in the clear-up, David and Yumi Baxter found a football and volleyball with names written on them in Alaska, and were able to send them back to their teenage owners in Japan. Similarly, when a Harley Davidson was found in a container in British Columbia, a person who had seen it in the press used the registration plate to locate its Japanese owner.

Volunteers, from surfers to students to pensioners, are working along the American coast to clear the debris but are bracing themselves for more in the next few weeks as the winter storms begin to hit. The worst is yet to come however, as the bulk of the debris is still north of Hawaii. Larger amounts are expect to reach the West Coast next year.

As well as the emotions induced by the debris, there are also practical concerns about radioactivity in the debris. Although none has yet been detected, this remains a fear among many. Volunteers can alert rangers if they find debris that they do not want to touch.

The major concern for residents of the West Coast however is the prospect of a similar tsunami disaster striking there. Despite the 5,000 miles of ocean between them, Oregon and Japan have a shared geology. The coast has, historically, been victim to earthquakes that have caused giant waves, before there were large settlements there. Chris Havel, Chris Havel of Oregon Parks and Recreation Service said that the next earthquake will leave Oregonians “susceptible to the same sort of tragedy that struck Japan“. Tsunami evacuation safety procedures are currently in place in Oregon, as set out by the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries.

Sources include: The Huffington Post, BBC News

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