Tsunami Evacuations along California Coast

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A tsunami warning was briefly issued for the California coast last night after an offshore earthquake, prompting scattered evacuations but no reported injuries. The alert, the first of its kind since November 2003, was canceled at about 9:10 p.m. Pacific Coast time after being in effect for about 75 minutes. No tsunami waves were reported.

The warning, triggered by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck about 83 miles off the coast of northern California, was issued for the coastal areas from the California-Mexico border to the northern tip of Vancouver, British Columbia, the West Coast Tsunami Warning Center said on its Web site.

The two-hour watch warning, usually caused by earthquakes of a 7.0 magnitude or greater, is the second-highest level, next to three-hour warnings, given out by the Tsunami Warning Center, according to Bill Knight, a physical scientist for the center.

Last night’s alert was six months after the Dec. 26 magnitude-9 earthquake off Sumatra in northwestern Indonesia that triggered a tsunami that killed more than 290,000 people in 12 Indian Ocean countries.

A tsunami is a series of waves created by events such as earthquakes that cause the massive displacement of water in an ocean or lake. Earlier this week, a 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck a desert area of Southern California, the strongest to hit the region in more than three years.

Evacuation

About 4,000 people in Crescent City, California, site of a 1964 tsunami in which 12 people were killed, were evacuated last night for about 45 minutes because of the warning. It was the first such evacuation since 1986, said Del Norte County Sheriff’s Department Commander Tim Athey in an interview.

“We did set off the siren and evacuated the low-lying areas and downtown Crescent City,” said Athey, who added that the town was last evacuated by a tsunami warning in 1986. “Everyone around here is well-educated on what to do.”

Warnings failed to reach other residents along the California coast. Keola Beimes, a Los Angeles consultant who has lived three blocks from Venice Beach for three years, learned of the warning from a television news report at about 9:30, though he had been walking along the beach about 45 minutes earlier.

“I had no idea there was a tsunami warning,” said Beimes, 33, in a telephone interview. Knowing what I know, it would’ve been nice to have a siren go off.”

The Los Angeles County Fire Department, which oversees lifeguards along the Southern California coast, received the warning at about 9 p.m. and warned lifeguards, said Melanie Flores, supervising fire dispatcher, in a telephone interview.

“That notification would’ve been made through the emergency broadcast system, but that information was canceled about 10 minutes after we got it.”