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Could a tsunami hit Florida?

1:43 PM, Mar 12, 2012   |    comments
Via Florida Today
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ROCKLEDGE - A towering 100-foot wall of water sweeping across downtown Orlando: That's the Hollywood apocalypse envisioned by some tsunami alarmists.

In reality, only 40 recorded tsunami-like waves have hit the U.S. East Coast since 1600.

Bart Hagemeyer, meteorologist-in-charge at Melbourne's National Weather Service station, believes tsunamis are so rare that many Space Coast residents live in "denial" that one could ever strike here.

But that doesn't mean Brevard County's barrier island is safe. On July 3, 1992, a freakish "rogue wave" measuring 10 feet high and 27 miles long - pounded Daytona Beach near midnight, injuring 75 people and sweeping away dozens of vehicles.

Had it hit hours later - on the Fourth of July - disaster would have struck.

"During any time period during the day, there would have been several hundred thousand people on the beach. And we would have had fatalities," Hagemeyer said.

Thursday, Hagemeyer addressed nearly 50 representatives of various Brevard agencies during a tsunami-planning workshop at the Emergency Operations Center in Rockledge.

On March 28, the National Weather Service in Melbourne and the EOC will participate in a national tsunami exercise simulating a 7.7-magnitude underwater earthquake near South Carolina.

Roughly 15,000 to 40,000 residents and visitors occupy Brevard's tsunami "hazard zone" extending 300 feet west from the high-tide mark, estimated Scott Spratt, National Weather Service Melbourne warning coordination meteorologist.

Port Canaveral stands particularly vulnerable - even to a 1.5-meter tsunami, warned George Maul, a Florida Tech oceanographer.

A tsunami generated by an underwater landslide may only give Brevard officials 45 minutes of advance warning, Maul said. And thousands of cruise ship passengers could be trapped practically at sea level, with no clue where to evacuate.

"This would be a perfect recipe for a Hollywood disaster story: all the ships in port when a wave comes in. You'd have a total calamity," Maul said.

Indian Harbour Beach and Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville are the East Coast's sole certified "tsunami-ready" population centers.

Indian Harbour Beach Police Chief Bob Sullivan said his city's municipal workers would first join forces to evacuate swimmers, beach-goers and first-floor condominium residents. Then, after the waters receded, they would start search-and-rescue operations.

"Thank God we haven't had any tsunamis in Brevard County. And maybe we never will. But if we do, the question is, are you ready for it? Do you know what to do? Do you have something in place?" Sullivan asked.

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