Tsunami Surge Was Teachable Moment for SD
The tsunami surge that swept down California's coastline didn't cause as much damage in San Diego as it did to the north. But it was a valuable teaching moment for local emergency officials, to sharpen their response to another quake-driven tidal event.
The county's Office of Services issued an advisory. Not a warning, which triggers when the wave amplitude is projected over three feet.
The high-range expectation here was 2.6 feet.
The actual was less than a foot.
But San Diego isn't immune from a lot more.
"Back in the 1950s there was a wave of almost five feet in San Diego, and we have had a little damage," says Ron Lane, the county's emergency services director. "But our risk is a major earthquake in the Aleutians, that might cause a bigger wave than we've ever had."
Last Friday's first tsunami surge was mild because it came at low tide.
But later surges coincided with high tide -- causing intense currents felt most sharply in Mission Bay. That's where a bait barge broke apart and slammed into nearby boats and docks before it partially sank.
Because the situation didn't call for a warning, urging people to evacuate inland at least two miles, or to a spot 100 feet above sea level, a lot of spectators came to local beaches and bays to watch the tsunami.
And surfers, to paddle out into it.
"The rip currents were a little bit strong, but nobody really listens (to the tsunami advisories)," said Mission Valley resident Albert Garcia, who took on the waves at La Jolla Shores.
"I mean, you've been doing this since you were five years old, you really want to stay here. It was really, really fun. It wasn't dangerous or anything like that."
In an interview Thursday, Garcia scoffed at the notion that lifeguards' warnings about a tsunami advisory would carry much weight with the hard-core surfing crowd.
"That's the time when you'd see everybody out here in the water," he said, smiling broadly. "What if you're not out here and it gets really, really fun and you miss everything?"
Other La Jolla Shores beachgoers on Friday say they don't need much convincing to avoid the shoreline after a tsunami advisory.
"I'd rather be safe at home," said University resident Angela Bortone. "We know you can't outrun a tsunami, and there's not many roads out of La Jolla."
Added her mother-in-law, Midge Bortone: "No, we definitely are not the type of family to come down and watch a tsunami."
Some 25,000 people live in flood-prone areas along the county's coastline.
They're in the database to receive calls from the county's reverse 911 emergency notification system.
Officials will use data from last Friday's event to update their mapping, precautions and response protocols.