December 12, 2005

Report finds Calif. tsunami preparations flawed

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A tsunami could endanger a million
or more people along California's coast and cripple Pacific
ports, according to a report released on Monday that highlights
weaknesses in U.S. preparations for a killer wave.

The study by the California Seismic Safety Commission found
flaws in the tsunami warning system, incomplete and underfunded
local evacuation plans and building codes that have not been
updated to protect occupants from the power of tidal surge.

Over 80 tsunamis have been recorded in California in the
recorded history of the state, including a 21-foot (6.4-meter)
high wave triggered by a magnitude 9.2 Alaskan quake in 1964
that killed 12.

After the devastating South Asian tsunami in December last
year, the state of California set up a public committee to
evaluate the readiness of the most populous U.S. state.

The report concludes that one of the biggest risks is to
the port complex at Los Angeles and Long Beach, the busiest
U.S. port and the main route for seaborne Pacific trade.

A tsunami of over 15 feet, the report said, could overwhelm
that seaport complex, disrupting operations and endangering the
lives of 8,000 workers.

In addition, a two-month shutdown of the Southern
California ports would cause economic damages of some $60
billion, on par with the insured losses from Hurricane Katrina.

About a million California residents live in areas that
could suffer flooding from a tidal wave and another million or
so visit the state's beaches on any given summer day, the
report said.

The report also found problems with the warning network for
tsunamis on the Pacific Coast of the United States, a
decades-old system under which the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration issues advisories but leaves the
question of how to respond to local governments.

A June 2005 earthquake off the coast of California prompted
U.S. tsunami warning centers to issue apparently conflicting
advisories that confused emergency response teams in
California, the report said.

In that case, a tsunami warning remained in effect for the
entire West Coast for over an hour even though seismologists
quickly concluded that the risk of a giant wave was small.

The report noted that emergency planners on the Pacific
Coast have neither had the money nor time in recent years to
prepare evacuation routes or post signs.

"These are the same people who prepare for terrorist
incidents and they have often been diverted onto other tasks in
the last few years," the report said.