Tsunamis are a major worry on the U.S. West Coast, and the sight of tsunami debris washing ashore from Japan’s 2011 tsunami gives everyone a reminder of what could happen. It’s already known that the beaches of Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California are vulnerable to the subduction zone earthquake that those of us who live there fear every day. But while the tsunami debris washing ashore can be a haunting sight, it still can be a hazard to west coast beaches.
With chances of more Japan tsunami debris washing ashore on those beaches in coming years, what should you do if you encounter something unusual? You should keep in mind that some of it is simple enough where you can take care of the problem on your own. In other cases, it could be debris that’s detrimental to the surrounding ecosystem and requires professional assistance.
What to Call if You See Tsunami Debris
Oregon set up a special three-digit number to call if you see any tsunami debris wash ashore on the coast. By simply dialing 2-1-1, you’ll be able to instantly report tsunami debris so the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration can investigate it. In Washington, they haven’t yet provided a three-digit number, so you’ll have to dial 1-855-WACOAST.
When you report the debris, you’ll be expected to give an accurate location, the date and time when you found it, upload some photos from a digital camera or cell phone, plus write some descriptions so it can be easier found.
The NOAA also has an email address at DisasterDebris@noaa.gov where you can report tsunami debris that’s undeniably from Japan.
Taking Care of Debris on Your Own or with Help
Some of the most basic tsunami debris may be small items like Styrofoam, bottles, or aluminum cans. These aren’t going to be contaminated, so it’s generally acceptable to pick these up and recycle them on your own. Then again, some of those items may not look familiar, which may create some confusion. If you aren’t sure, you shouldn’t pick it up because it could have potential hazards.
In other cases, you’ll be seeing much larger items like oil drums, gas cans, or propane tanks. These are obviously going to be hazardous and need some special assistance in being removed. Even larger items may soon be spotted on west coast beaches, including fishing boats, or even containers. None of these items should be touched, even if there’s going to be a temptation for kids to climb on them or for onlookers to bring the shipping containers out of the ocean.
In these cases, call 1-800-424-8802 for the National Response Center, or your local state health agency. If you happen to see personal names or other personal markings on certain items, you may be able to take part in a separate service being made available.
Returning Personal Items to Japan
The NOAA has a project underway that’s helping return any personal items from Japan that wash ashore in future years. Some people have already found small and large items with personal markings that are being returned to Japanese family members or groups. It’s an emotional project you may be tangentially taking part in if you happen to find a personalized item.
You may even have to endure the possibility of finding human remains from the tsunami. While this may seem less likely as time goes on, calling 911 is a given, including avoiding any attempt at touching or moving the body.
With everywhere from Hawaii to Alaska expected to see more signs of this debris in coming years, reporting procedures will have to be perpetually kept in mind if vacationing there. While everything above is expected, we’ll only hope it doesn’t become even more tragic to a point where the Pacific Ocean resembles a sea of Toyotas.