Tsunami morning after fear factor still felt along West coast

Dave Masko's picture

It's the calm after the storm when many here in this central Oregon coast town of Florence, and up and down the West coast, are counting their blessings and offering public statements to friends and neighbors “it’s good to be alive and out of harm’s way.”

The day after Japan’s 8.9-magnitude earthquake -- that triggered a Tsunami that threatened millions of Americans living in coastal regions along the West coast – the “drill now is to prepare because the same kind of thing may again happen here at any time,” warned a representative of Oregon’s Emergency Management response team.

Team members are now out in force – up and down the Oregon coast – briefing local community and government agencies while also responding to the massive destruction that yesterday’s Tsunami left in its wake.

PTSD a health concern now after Tsunami scare

While emergency officials note that there was not a large loss of life, they are pointing to “real concerns about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)” that’s resulted in packed hospital emergency rooms up and down the West coast due to “people being overwrought with anxiety and high levels of stress causing everything from heart attacks to emotional outbreaks in children who’ve shared the fears of the Tsunami with their parents and friends.

“There’s real fear, and real PTSD issues now in the wake of this quake and Tsunami. People see what happened over in Japan, and they understand that could be them as well,” explained one emergency official who’s skilled in mental health counseling.

At the same time, many of those who live in Florence and along Oregon’s coast are elderly who do not have a high tolerance for stress on the levels experienced in mass on Friday when sirens blared throughout the early morning sending people out in their PJ’s to face Mother Nature’s wrath.

“I nearly exploded with anticipating the worst. Through all the bustle and brouhaha, I was so nervous. It was just staggering,” explained Florence local Betty Fennerty who recently turned 81.

“Big One” past due, new Tsunami alerts in place

In fact, experts are pointing to Friday’s massive Tsunami scare, and the resulting waves that pounded the coast line destroying homes, boats and threatening lives, as highly possible again because “the big one is past due.”

Moreover, experts say there’s a 94 percent chance that an earthquake and resulting Tsunami will hit the San Francisco region in the coming 20 to 30 years because of the Earth’s shifting crust. Thus, Japan’s earthquake and Tsunami may happen here along the West coast sooner than expected. Experts add: “It’s not if, but when.”

“It has happened in the past. It will happen in the future. It would be devastating. There would be a lot of damage,” explained Geology Professor Scott Burns of nearby Portland State University during recent interviews on local Oregon TV.

Burns also pointed to the “Cascadia fault” where the Juan de Fuca and North America plates meet in “sometimes in violent confrontation.”
Burns said it’s part of the “ring of fire” – volcanoes and earthquakes surrounding the Pacific Ocean. The Cascade Mountain Range – which includes nearby Mount St. Helens that’s still volcanically active.

In brief, this was a real “wake-up call that a quake and a major Tsunami can literally wipe out life as we know it along our West coast,” said one official from a national emergency response team.

That which survives after a Tsunami

“That which survives is the human spirit,” said a Florence local who’s of Japanese heritage and has family in the submerged town of Minamisanriku, Japan.

At the same time, a Sixties “hippie” group that lives in a nearby commune visited Florence and central Oregon coast beaches today while sharing ancient readings and prayers, so as to bless this once scenically magnificent Pacific coast that’s now the scene of the Tsunami’s aftermath with massive debris from destroyed homes, boats and dead sea life.

“It’s hard to believe that this once vibrant and friendly stretch of beach is now this disaster,” said a hippie commune member named Seth whose look of startled wariness was shared by other locals carrying big trash sacks as they roamed the beach looking for trash that could clean up.

In turn, Seth read from a holy book called the Bodhichitta – that he explained was a holy Sanskrit word that means “awakened heart.”

“No matter how hurt or afraid we’ve become with this Tsunami and the great loss of life in Japan, the genuine heart of Bodhichitta cannot be lost. It is here in all that lives, never marred and completely whole because we are all one and not separate in this life,” said Seth, while the inspirational impact of these ancient words seemed to touch the strangers cleaning the beach who now seemed like old friends.

Seth noted that the Bodhichitta is also equated with compassion, and “our ability to feel the pain that we share with others.”

The Bodhichitta texts are some 3,000 years old and state what a lot of local Tsunami survivors now feel, added the hippie teacher who revealed that he once taught at the University of Oregon in the early 1960’s.

“Without realizing it, we continually shield ourselves from this pain of the Tsunami and earthquake because it scared us,” he said. “Based on a deep fear of being hurt, we erect protective walls made out of strategies, opinions, prejudices and emotions.”

Seth added that “we train in the Bodhichitta practices in order to become so open that we can take the pain of the world in, let it touch our hearts, and turn it into compassion.”

Locals get a Tsunami refresher on what to do

At the same time that Seth and his hippie group from a nearby commune – that started up in the early 1960’s after Eugene area locals dropped out of mainstream society – shared the “spiritual” side of dealing with a morning after a day of Tsunami threats, representatives from the Oregon Emergency Management department remained in Florence to brief locals on what to do when the next Tsunami hits.

“A local Tsunami can come onshore within 15 to 20 minutes after the earthquake. The ground shaking from the earthquake may be the only warning you have. Evacuate quickly,” said the emergency management official who noted that there may not be time for an official warning from the national warning system.
In turn, groups of locals gathering around an emergency response vehicle this day after the Tsunami slammed the Oregon coast and recited these instructions on what to do when the next one hits:

-- Evacuate on foot, if at all possible. Follow evacuation signs and arrows.

-- If you need help evacuating, tie something white – such as a sheet or towel – to the front door knob of your house. Make it large enough to be visible from the street. In the emergency we had yesterday, with a distant Tsunami coming in from Japan, we expect to have help arriving in Florence asap. However, in the event of a local Tsunami, it is unlikely that anyone will help you. So make a plan and be prepared!

-- Stay away from potentially hazardous areas until you receive an all clear from local officials. Also, Tsunamis often follow river channels, and dangerous waves can persist for several hours.

-- After evacuation, check with local emergency officials if you think you have special skills and can help, or if you need assistance locating lost family members.

Overall, the lessons learned from yesterday’s Tsunami – that took human life and destroyed property up and down the West coast – is to “prepare now for the next one.”

Oregon Emergency Management officials also recommend that locals here in Florence and other coastal communities start a “Tsunami buddy system now” with community members working as one to protect their lives down the road when the next earthquake and Tsunami hits the West coast.

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