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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California
Southern California

Researchers: "Low tides saved the day" in California

The USC Tsunami Reseach Center praises, criticizes statewide response to tsunami

Researchers at the USC Tsunami Research Center said California was lucky to experience only minor damage from Friday’s tsunami.

“Low tides saved the day,” said researcher Jose Borrero, who explained that high tides could have magnified the effect of the ocean swell.

“All of the ports and harbors had a plan in place and executed this plans very well,” he said, praising the public for staying away from beaches and making the Coast Guard’s job easier.

“It’s a testament to the hard work put in over the past decade at the federal, state and local levels,” he said.

“Some of the largest surges came at about 7 p.m. that night, which is 12 hours after the initial wave arrival,” Borrero said. “Actually some of the bigger surges happened later in the day, and that’s a function of both the tsunami wave itself and the way the tsunami interacts with the coastline and the port.”

But researchers said the confusion resulting from a minor disaster like Friday’s ocean swell is an opportunity to learn before a major disaster hits California in the future.

“[Caltrans] had no information for people who wanted to know if it was safe to drive along highway 1,” said Leslie Ewing, another researcher at the center.

“People wanted to evacuate and get out of different areas,” she said. “Yet there was no information on the CalTrans 5-1-1 number to let people know what were safe routes to take.”

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