Natural disasters tend to strike when we’re least prepared. Horrified by the long-term damage caused by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey have been trying to figure out what a similar disaster would do to America’s West Coast. Using a “hypothetical yet plausible” 9.1 earthquake centered off Alaska’s Pacific Coast as the basis for their scenario, researchers say such an event would trigger a monster tsunami. Results show that a tsunami of these proportions would devastate California’s coastline, causing as much as $700 million in losses and disrupting international shipping schedules.

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For years, people in California have been anticipating “The Big One,” an earthquake of 8.5 or greater magnitude that’s likely to occur around the San Andreas fault east of Los Angeles. However, this new study suggests that a big earthquake that occurs farther away could create bigger problems.

“In this scenario approximately 750,000 people would need to be evacuated, with 90,000 of those being tourists and visitors,” said the report, co-published by the USGS and the California Geological Survey. If the earthquake and tsunami occurred in the summer, the number of tourists could be even bigger, representing a transient population who are likely to have very little experience in dealing with this type of natural disaster.

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, two of the largest trade gateways on the West Coast, are considered to be especially vulnerable in this scenario, since there would only be a few hours of warning before the wave hit. “…given the short time between the tsunami warning … and the first wave arrival” — 3.5 hours in LA and Long Beach — it may be difficult or impossible to get ships out to sea, where they would be at less risk,” states the report. “Damage to vessels in the ports is possible. Other ports in San Francisco Bay and San Diego Bay are also likely to be damaged in such a scenario,” it added.

In the Northern part of the state, rocky cliffs line the coast, and would act as a protective barrier, but things wouldn’t be so cozy further south. Property damage would be staggering, since one-quarter at risk is some of the most economically valuable property in California.

The only silver lining in the report was a claim that California’s two nuclear power plants, both near the coast, would face minimal danger. Although, this is not so comforting when you consider that Japanese researchers probably thought the same thing when they built Fukushima.

via Yahoo News