Friday, September 4 , 2015, 6:25 pm | Fair 74.0º




So Far, So Good as Tsunami Surges Keep Santa Barbara on High Alert

Emergency officials mobilize to put precautions in place after massive 8.9-magnitude Japan earthquake, as residents flock to the waterfront for prime viewing

Several dozen people gather at Stearns Wharf on Friday morning to watch elevated swells roll in from a large tsunami generated by an earthquake off Japan’s northeastern coast.

Several dozen people gather at Stearns Wharf on Friday morning to watch elevated swells roll in from a large tsunami generated by an earthquake off Japan’s northeastern coast.  (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

By Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @magnoli | updated logo 3 p.m. |

Santa Barbara County residents and emergency officials were on high alert for tidal surges on Friday after a large tsunami was generated by a devastating 8.9-magnitude earthquake off Japan’s northeastern coast.

Waterfront officials told Noozhawk that 1.3-foot to 1.5-foot waves were detected, and a news release issued about 11:30 a.m. said tidal surges were expected for the next one to four hours.

A tidal surge hit the Santa Barbara Harbor before noon, and Harbor Patrol directed boat traffic and mitigated the issue. That has been no damage reported in Santa Barbara County.

In Santa Cruz, officials reported the sinking of about 20 boats and damage to 100 more, in addition to significant harbor infrastructure damage.

By 8:30 a.m., several dozen people had gathered at Stearns Wharf — some of whom seemed far from alarmed and were enjoying their morning coffee. Harbor Patrol was active near the pier.

The waves have been relatively small in the area, but elevated swells could continue for several hours and subsequent swells or waves can be larger than ones that came before them.

No evacuation orders have been issued on the South Coast, but Richard Abrams of the county Office of Emergency Services said sheriff’s deputies were posted in some low-lying areas, such as Goleta Beach, to keep people away.

“Everything north of Point Conception isn’t doing that well, but south of Point Conception is doing better,” Abrams said. North of Point Conception, he said areas will see some “real wave action.”

Santa Barbara County has no official beach or coastal park closures but strongly recommends people stay away for the remainder of Friday. The Tsunami Center told county officials to anticipate coastal surges throughout the day with a lot of waves coming in, Abrams said.

The Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach is closed, and park rangers are turning away cars from the parking lot.

“We’re just being very cautious and advise people to stay away from those low-lying areas,” Abrams said.

The EOS, which also was coordinating efforts with UCSB, warned swimmers and surfers to stay out of the water because of dangerous currents and riptides. Live-aboard residents and boats were asked to exercise caution, and Santa Barbara municipal emergency crews were taking steps to protect the harbor area.

The Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District said its downtown shuttles will be on detour routes until the tsunami advisory is lifted, and that there will be no service below Gutierrez Street.

San Luis Obispo County officials evacuated many areas Friday morning, including Port San Luis, Avila Beach, Pismo Beach, Oceano and Cayucos, according to media reports. The Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant is on high ground and was expected to continue operating as usual.

Click here for regional maps of recognized tsunami inundation hazard zones in Santa Barbara County.

The West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami advisory for the California coastline between Point Conception west of Santa Barbara and the Mexico border and from the Oregon-Washington border to Chignik Bay, Alaska.

A tsunami warning is in effect between Point Conception and the Oregon-Washington border and along coastal Alaska between Amchitka Pass and Attu Island in far western Alaska.

The advisory and warning will remain in effect until further notice, officials said. Almost all of the Pacific Rim was on tsunami alert Friday.

According to the National Weather Service, tsunami warnings mean a tsunami with significant widespread inundation is expected, along with dangerous coastal flooding. Powerful currents are possible and may continue for several hours after the initial wave. Coastal residents are asked to move inland to higher ground, and boats and ships should be repositioned to deep water when there is time to safely do so.

Tsunami advisories mean a tsunami capable of producing strong currents and waves is expected, and currents may be hazardous to swimmers, surfers, boats and coastal structures. Authorities said significant widespread inundation is not expected in advisory areas but unsettled conditions could continue for several hours afterward.

Authorities said waves were expected to reach Monterey Bay at 7:44 a.m., Port San Luis at 8:03 a.m., San Francisco Bay at 8:08 a.m., Santa Barbara Harbor at 8:15 a.m., Rincon Point at 8:28 a.m., the Ventura County coast at 8:30 a.m., Santa Monica at 8:31 a.m., San Pedro at 8:32 a.m., Newport Beach at 8:37 a.m. and La Jolla at 8:41 a.m.

Orange County beaches were closed Friday morning as a precaution.

While Santa Barbara expected swells of 2 to 3 feet, coastal areas north of Point Conception were likely to experience waves of 3½ feet and above 7 feet, with 7.1 feet expected in Port San Luis Harbor.

Morro Bay was likely to see surges of 3.9 feet, Pismo Beach 2.4 feet, Guadalupe 3.3 feet, Carpinteria 1.6 feet, Ventura 2.9 feet, Malibu 1.2 feet, Santa Monica 2.8 feet, Redondo Beach 2.1 feet, San Pedro Harbor 1.3 feet and Huntington Beach 2.3 feet.

Waves topping 6 feet could slam Crescent City, south of the Oregon border, and evacuation sirens began sounding just before 5:30 a.m. Waves generated by a 2006 earthquake in Japan destroyed part of the Del Norte County community and damaged fishing boats. A tsunami after the magnitude-9.2 Alaska Earthquake in 1964 killed a dozen people and caused millions of dollars in damage in the town.

All of Hawaii’s islands are in the tsunami’s path and officials said waves at least 3 feet high hit Kauai and Oahu just after 3 a.m. local time (5 a.m. Pacific time) while Maui was swept by waves of 6-8 feet. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

All coastal areas were evacuated by 2 a.m. local time and Waikiki Beach hotels implemented vertical evacuations in which guests were moved to higher floors. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center warned that the waves would continue and could become as high as 6 feet, but not a solid “wall” of water.

Hawaii itself was hit by a 4.6-magnitude earthquake just before 11 p.m. local time Thursday. No injuries or damage were reported from the quake, whose epicenter was 10 miles south southwest of Leilani Estates.

The 8.9-magnitude earthquake that slammed Japan struck at 2:46 p.m. Friday (10:46 p.m. Thursday Pacific time) and was followed within an hour by five powerful aftershocks, including a magnitude-7.1, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS said the earthquake was the world’s fifth strongest recorded quake since 1900.

The quake’s epicenter was 81 miles off the coast of Sendai, the capital of Miyagi prefecture, and it struck at a depth of 12 miles.

Japan experienced widespread and devastating damage from the quake, and at least 400 deaths and thousands of injuries were reported. Airports were closed, the country’s bullet train services were suspended, and as many as 4 million people were without power in Tokyo. Fires sparked by the quake were burning throughout the region. Near-freezing temperatures were an added complication.

Officials said Sendai was hit by a wall of water 33 feet high. Live TV coverage showed cars, boats and buildings being carried along by 25-foot tsunami surges for miles inland. A large ship was swept onto a breakwater in Kesennuma north of Tokyo.

A Feb. 27, 2010, tsunami triggered by an 8.8 earthquake in Chile sent a 10-inch tidal surge into the harbor, but no injuries or damage were reported.

» Click here for additional information, charts, graphics and animation from the the NOAA Center for Tsunami Research.

» Click here for regional maps of recognized tsunami inundation hazard zones in Santa Barbara County.

» Click here for updates from the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center.

» Click here for estimated arrival times of tsunami surges along the West Coast.

» Click here for a map of the Japan earthquake and tsunami.

» Click here for the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Services. Click here to sign up for the OES’ messaging service. Follow the OES on Facebook.

» Twitter hashtags for the Japan earthquake and tsunami include #tsunami, #prayforjapan, #Sendai, #Fukushima, #Guam and #WakeIsland.

Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

Tsunami travel times
(West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center graphic)




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