As Japan reeled from the shock of a magnitude 8.9 earthquake that triggered horrifically destructive tsunamis there, 50 countries prepared to absorb tsunami impacts on their own coasts. Here in America, coastal national parks in Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and northern California were in the bullseye.
The strongest earthquake on record since that notoriously destructive Indonesia earthquake/tsunami in 2004 sent massive amounts of wave energy coursing across the Pacific Basin at jet plane speed. Coastal communities in its path were left to brace for tsunamis that could range from scarcely noticeable to potentially catastrophic.
High anxiety prevailed in Hawaii, where a full coastal evacuation was ordered. The first tsunami arrived at about 3:30 a.m. local time (8:30 am EDT). Hawaii was in the highest-energy zone, where tsunamis of unusual strength were most likely to occur. Because tsunamis pack so much energy, even a five-or six-foot wave sweeping ashore can kill people and cause enormous property damage up to several miles inland.
Alaska is not in the direct path of the wave energy moving across the Pacific, but some coastal areas could be affected significantly.
In the Lower 48, tsunami warnings were issued for the West Coast from the northern border of Washington southward to Point Conception, California (with advisories extending to the southern California coast). Initial estimates projected that the first tsunamis would arrive along the Washington-Oregon-northern California coast as early as 7:15 a.m. local.
Crescent City, California, which took a heavy tsunami hit (with loss of life) from the 1964 Alaska quake, is an especially vulnerable location because the unique configuration of the shoreline there tends to magnify tsunami effects. Redwood National and State Parks, which has its headquarters in Crescent City, was the first unit of the National Park System to be certified as tsunami-ready.