Tsunamis

A tsunami (pronounced soo-nahm-ee) is a series of waves (not just one) caused by a large and sudden disturbance of the sea. Tsunami waves move outward in all directions from where it started. They can move across entire oceans. As the big waves approach shallow waters along the coast, they grow to a great height and smash into the shore. They can be as high as 100 feet. They can cause a lot of damage on the shore.

Most tsunamis are caused by undersea earthquakes. However, they can also be caused by landslides, volcanic activity, and even meteorites. Not all earthquakes cause tsunamis.

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic will be ongoing as potential threats such as tsunamis continue to occur. Remember to follow the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and your state and local authorities to protect yourself and your family from COVID-19 and other disasters.

Words to Know

Tsunamis generally appear in the Pacific Ocean and coastal areas. Hawaii is the state at greatest risk for a tsunami. They get about one a year, with a damaging tsunami happening about every seven years. Alaska is also at high risk. Coastal states, like California, Oregon and Washington experience a damaging tsunami about every 18 years.

Tsunamis can strike any U.S. coastline. Areas within a mile of the shore­line and areas less than 25-feet above sea level are at greater risk. Tsunamis generally appear in the Pacific Ocean and coastal areas. Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, and the U.S. Caribbean islands are at greatest risk for a tsunami.

Living through disasters, like a tsunami can be more complicated when we are also experiencing a pandemic like COVID-19. It is important to be prepared and to understand how COVID-19 might affect you and your family, while understanding the actions you can take to protect yourself from tsunamis.

COVID-19 may affect different people in different ways. By practicing good health habits, like washing your hands and social distancing, you can lower your chances of getting sick, both from COVID-19 and in general. 

Before

  • Build an emergency kit with items that you will need in case you need to evacuate quickly. Your kit should include cleaning supplies, two masks per person to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and non-perishable foods that could last for several days or weeks in case you must stay at home. 
  • Make a family communications plan. Review evacuation routes and sheltering in place guidelines during a pandemic. 
  • If you see the water pull back from the shore out to sea very quickly, get away from the area immediately.
  • There are four levels of tsunami alerts issued by the tsunami warning centers for United States and Canadian coastlines:
    • Tsunami Warning: Take Action—Danger! Follow instructions from local officials. Evacuation is recommended. Move to high ground or inland (away from the water).
    • Tsunami Advisory: Take Action. Stay out of the water and away from beaches and waterways. Follow instructions from local officials.
    • Tsunami Watch: Be Aware. A distant earthquake has occurred. A tsunami is possible. Stay tuned for more information. Be prepared to take action if necessary.
    • Tsunami Information Statement: Relax. An earthquake has occurred, or a tsunami warning, advisory or watch has been issued for another part of the ocean. Most information statements indicate there is no threat of a destructive tsunami.
  • Listen to evacuation orders and leave the area immediately if told to do so.
  • Take any pets with you.
  • Move inland (away from the ocean) and towards higher ground.
  • Stay away from the beach. Never go down to the water to watch a tsunami come in. If you can see the wave, you are too close to escape it.
  • If you see the water pull back from the shore out to sea very quickly, get away from the area immediately.
  • Move to the upper levels of a tall, fortified building to minimize your hazard exposure.

During

  • Listen to evacuation orders and leave the area immediately.
    • If your family must evacuate, ask your parent to bring supplies that can help you protect yourself and your family from COVID-19, like masks. Remember that children under two years old, people who have trouble breathing, and people who cannot remove the mask on their own should not wear masks.
    • Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes, especially with unwashed hands.
    • If you and your family must stay at a shelter or public facility, maintain a distance of at least six feet, or about two adult arm lengths, between you and people who are not in your household. Remember: Don’t go near crowds or groups. item 1
  • Take any pets with you.
  • Move inland (away from the ocean) and towards higher ground.
  • Stay away from the beach. Never go down to the water to watch a tsunami come in. If you can see the wave, you are too close to escape it.
  • If the water recedes from the shoreline or goes out to sea in a very noticeable way, get away from the area immediately. This is nature’s warning that a tsunami is coming.
  • Move to the upper levels of a tall, fortified building to minimize your hazard exposure.

 

After

  • Don’t return home unless officials tell you it is safe to do so. Tsunami waves can continue for hours and the next wave may be more dangerous than the first.
    • If you and your family must stay at a shelter or public facility, wear a mask. Don’t wear a mask if you have trouble breathing. Babies, kids under the age of two, and people who have trouble breathing should not wear them.
  • Stay away from debris in the water. It could be dangerous. There is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread through water, however it may contain debris, chemicals, or waste that are harmful to your health.  
  • Carefully watch every step you take. Stay away from debris in the water. It could be dangerous because it could contain harmful chemicals or may be electrified by downed power lines
  • Stay out of any building with water around it. Water can make floors crack or walls collapse.
  • Text, don’t talk. Unless there’s a life-threatening situation, send a text so that you don’t tie up phone lines needed by emergency workers. Plus, texting may work even if cell service is down.
  • Be very careful before re-entering your home or other buildings. Tsunami-driven floodwater has likely damaged the building in many ways that you can’t see. Be sure a parent or adult is with you.
  • Remind your parents to clean surfaces that people touch frequently, like doorknobs, light switches, and remote controls. Children should not take part in disaster cleanup work. 
  • Know that it’s normal to feel anxious or stressed out. Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. Take care of your body and talk with your parents or other trusted adults if you are feeling upset.

Staying Healthy

  • Cover your coughs and sneezes! If you are not wearing a mask, use a tissue or cough or sneeze into your elbow. If you do use a tissue, throw it in the trash right away. 
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice while you wash your hands. Make sure to wash your hands after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, using the bathroom, and eating or making food. 
  • If you can’t find soap and water to wash your hands, use hand sanitizer
  • Stay away from people who are coughing, sneezing, or sick.
  • Remind your parents to clean surfaces that people touch frequently, like desks, doorknobs, light switches, and remote controls.
  • Tell your parents if you feel sick.

Did you know?

“Tsunami” is a Japanese word. Tsu means “harbor” and nami means “wave.”

On the open spaces of the ocean, a fast-moving tsunami may only be a few feet high, with 100 miles separating wave crests. As they approach shore, waves increase in height and currents intensify, which create a bigger threat to life and property.

Few tsunamis “break” like the waves seen in wind-generated waves popular with surfers. Tsunamis are more often associated with strong currents and walls of water that do not retreat like normal tidal waves do.

Tsunamis may be local, regional, or far away. The type of tsunami depends on the location of where the tsunami started and where it may hit land.

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Last Updated: 02/18/2021