About 85 percent of tsunamis occur in the Pacific Ocean, but North Carolina residents living or vacationing at the beach should be prepared nonetheless.
A tsunami is a huge ocean wave that can hit coastal areas and surge inland 1,000 feet or more. The debris-filled water can cause great destruction and loss of life within minutes. Earthquakes or underwater landslides can trigger a tsunami, which can travel across an entire ocean basin within hours at speeds of 600 mph.
The speed of a tsunami wave decreases as it approaches the coast, but its height increases by as much as 100 feet. In the open ocean, tsunamis would not be felt by ships or seen from the air because the wavelength would be hundreds of miles long.
During the past four centuries, at least 40 tsunamis have hit the U.S. Atlantic coast, though most of them have been minor. Only one Atlantic-wide tsunami has been documented – one that was generated by an earthquake near Lisbon, Portugal, in 1755.
Although the risk of a tsunami striking the east coast is not great, the N.C. Emergency Management Division has included plans for responding to a tsunami in their training and education programs with local officials.
Information from the U.S. Geological Survey, Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the International Tsunamis Information Center.
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