SEASIDE — Oregonians had a surprising start to the day after an undersea volcano erupted near the peaceful nation of Tonga, triggering a tsunami advisory for the entire west coast.
The National Weather Service predicted waves of 1 to 3 feet on Saturday in Oregon, with the largest reported swell peaking at 1.5 feet near Port Orford by mid-afternoon.
The news spread quickly – through official text alerts, media reports and the town of Manzanita’s public works official knocking down a warning sign at the edge of the beach, according to authorities.
Many people, seeing the news, flocked to the waves.
“I think more people came to the beach because there was a warning,” said 55-year-old Canby resident Mollee Bidwell. “As Americans, you know, we hear something like this is going to happen, and we run for it.”
Bidwell was combing Seaside Beach on Saturday using an antique White’s Eagle Spectrum metal detector. His loot: a rusty tent peg.
Bidwell noted that startling sneaker waves can crawl across the sand at any time and become particularly dangerous when the weather seems deceptively calm.
“Be smart,” she said, “and don’t put yourself in danger.”
In Astoria, Deputy Fire Chief Terry Corbit knows a major tsunami could strike offshore at any time if the Cascadia subduction zone slips.
Compared to the so-called “Big One”, Saturday’s notice looked like small potatoes.
“The Cascadia event will likely remove most of our bridges and potentially landslide areas,” he said. “Immediately many of our areas in Clatsop County will be isolated.”
Corbit said residents and tourists should study tsunami maps showing low-level areas that will need to be evacuated, as well as safer highlands. He said Oregonians should stock up on clean water and dry or canned food — and set up a meeting point in the event of a major disaster while family members are separated because cellphone service would likely be interrupted.
“We have had these alerts before. In some ways, it’s good practice for people to think about,” Corbit told The Oregonian/OregonLive. “At least it opens their eyes a bit.”
Seaside resident Scott Dosch, 68, has spent the better part of four decades building ephemeral sand sculptures of mermaids, castles, soldiers and Buddhas, earning him the nickname ‘the sand man”.
Despite all the time spent near the ocean, Dosch isn’t worried. Its first line of defense against a tsunami is the Seaside Promenade Seawall. A brisk jog up the stairs to Broadway Street, Seaside’s main thoroughfare, is her secondary protection.
“And if I needed a tertiary, I guess we wouldn’t be safe anywhere,” he said.
Others can’t help but suspect that something big is coming.
Ana Santilli, who sells sodas and beer at Turnaround Market, woke up to a mobile alert from the town of Seaside, warning her of the tsunami advisory.
She went to work anyway. And from her place behind the counter, less than a block east of the selfie-perfect Seaside Turnaround, she said the market had more than 50 shoppers on Saturday morning – marking the start of a day of busy winter.
“When I see the word tsunami, I end up having nightmares,” said Santilli, 22. “If I’m working and the sirens go off, of course I’ll try to get to safety. But I wouldn’t have too much hope of getting there.
Read coverage of the 2011 tsunami that hit the Oregon coast:
Oregon Coast tsunami: Brookings, Crescent City and Depoe Bay report severe damage (photos, video)
Oregon Coast Tsunami: Reports of severe damage from Brookings and Crescent City ports (photos, video)
Gold Beach lifeguards battle fierce tide to save woman swept away by tsunami waves