CRESCENT CITY, Calif. – Coastal dwellers in far northern California and southern Oregon knew to take it seriously when tsunami sirens sounded after a 7.2-magnitude offshore earthquake, and thousands of people were safely evacuated within minutes.
Many here still remember the 1964 tsunami that killed 15 people along this stretch of the Pacific Coast.
And while there were no destructive waves after Tuesday night’s temblor, experts Wednesday praised the decision to announce a tsunami warning for the entire West Coast – better safe than sorry, they said.
Emergency managers in coastal communities also said the warning gave them a chance to test out their systems, and see what needs fixing should true disaster strike.
The quake did generate a tsunami of 1 centimeter – roughly the width of an adult’s finger. It wasn’t detected by equipment on shore but by an ocean pressure-measuring buoy located about 350 miles off the coast of California.
In Crescent City, there were several reported car accidents as people jammed the roads, trying to make their way out of town, said resident Calvin Maready. Others decided to go down to the beach, to wait for the waves. “I don’t know what was going through their heads,” he said.
Six minutes after the quake struck at 7:50 p.m. about 90 miles southwest of Crescent City, the West Coast & Alaska Tsunami Warning Center issued the first warning for the West Coast from the U.S.-Mexico border to Vancouver Island. That warning, not a watch or advisory, was issued because policies dictate such action for quakes greater than magnitude 7 so near the coast, a National Weather Service spokesman said.
Responses to the West Coast warning varied. While sirens sounded and evacuations took place in Crescent City and parts of Oregon’s coast, people elsewhere heard the warnings through radio reports and informational crawls on TV. Many others heard nothing.