The devastating tsunami that swept through Japan in March 2011 made national headlines, but it also struck close to home to costal towns in Southern Oregon and Northern California.
On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 earthquake struck about 130 kilometers east of Sendai, Japan. The largest earthquake to ever hit Japan triggered a massive tsunami, with waves nearly 30 feet high, sweeping everything in its path. NewsWatch12 had an exclusive interview with two English teachers who were in Japan when the quake struck.
The tsunami’s wave of destruction didn’t stop at Japan; it eventually made its way to the coast of Southern Oregon and Northern California. The tsunami caused millions of dollars in damage to the costal towns of Brookings and Crescent City. Harbor officials sought assistance from FEMA.
Emergency responders on the Southern Oregon and Northern California coasts admit they were not fully prepared when March’s earthquake in Japan triggered a tsunami along the West Coast. In Brookings, emergency crews thought they were ready for when the waves hit hours later. Now, they say they weren’t.
Almost immediately after the earthquake hit Japan, officials with the City of Brookings, the Coast Guard, Curry County Sheriff’s Office, and the Port of Brookings Harbor went through their safety protocol. Tsunami sirens were sounded before dawn, and announcements went out over the radio, but not everyone got the message. There were certain elements of the warning system that failed. Some of the sirens failed, some people didn’t hear the sirens, and some didn’t receive some notification in some other way. Those that did receive notification found it unclear. A lot of focus was on the first arrival time of the wave, and not the later arrival times of subsequent waves.
Officials were also concerned at the few people who ignored warnings and had wandered back to the beaches when the big waves hit. Del Norte officials say 25-year-old Dustin Weber was swept out to sea and presumably drowned while taking photographs of the ocean. His body was eventually found in April. In Curry County, four people were rescued after being swept out to sea.
Emergency crews in Brookings say hope one silver lining to the damage the Oregon coast suffered in March is that they’ll know what to do next time.