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U.S. Navy facilities in Japan and Guam are unlikely to experience tsunami disasters like those dealt countries in Southeast Asia on Sunday, officials said.

When earthquakes occur and tsunamis could result, the Navy weather detachments receive as much warning as possible from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, they said.

“Most of the time, when earthquake activity in the region leads to a tsunami it means a rise in the water levels by an inch, or a few inches,” said Jon Nylander, spokesman for Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan.

“If the tsunami is extremely powerful and moves as fast as it did in Southeast Asia, then about the best we can do is hunker down and head for high ground,” he said. “The aftereffects would then be addressed by the disaster preparedness plan at each base.”

The good news, officials said, is that harbors at Yokosuka Naval Base and Sasebo Naval Base are protected by land between the open sea and those bases. U.S. Naval Base Guam is protected similarly with coral reefs and the Marianas Trench, both helping to deflect a tsunami’s powerful punch.

The most these facilities typically experience from tsunami activity, Nylander said, is a rise in sea level anywhere from one to several inches.

According to the International Tsunami Information Center, the only damaging tsunami in Guam’s recorded history was in 1849. Several bayside villages were flooded and a woman was washed out to sea and killed.

Three of the eight worst known tsunamis occurred in Japan, according to the National Geophysical Data Center’s Web site. Those include a 1707 tsunami that killed an estimated 30,000 people, a tsunami in Sanriku in 1896 that killed approximately 27,000 and another in Sanriku that killed about 3,000 in 1933.

Preparing for deadly tsunamis, with their mind-boggling swells and stories-high waves like those that devastated areas throughout Asia a few days ago, is almost impossible. Petty Officer 1st Class Aaron Kawczk, a forecaster with the Naval Pacific Meteorology and Oceanography Detachment at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, said disastrous tsunamis develop quickly and can maintain speeds of up to 500 miles per hour for thousands of miles.

If given time to prepare, bases could issue warnings on radio and television and any other means available. And if deemed necessary and if time permits, the base could evacuate. “But that’s never happened in base history,” the weather forecaster said.

“When you drop a rock in a pool of water, you can see the ripples moving out from the center. In essence, those ripples are tsunami; it works the same way,” Kawczk explained.

“For us to see any serious tsunami action, a tsunami-generating earthquake would have to occur very close to the Sasebo Harbor,” he added, “which I suppose is possible but hasn’t happened.”

Ships berthed at Japan and Guam bases probably would lack time to sortie were a massive tsunami en route, and the minor rise in sea level from lesser tsunamis is not particularly dangerous, he explained.

“Ships can be fairly safe at sea during a tsunami because the large waves are moving deep under the surface. Out at sea, they aren’t extremely noticeable,” Kawczk explained. The passing waves produce only a gentle rise and fall of the surface.

The Novosibirsk Tsunami Laboratory in Novosibirsk, Russia, recorded 796 tsunamis in the Pacific Ocean from 1900 to 2001, according to NASA’s Global Change Master Directory Web site. Of those, 117 caused casualties and damage mostly near the source, and at least nine caused widespread destruction throughout the Pacific.

The greatest number of tsunamis during any one year was 19 in 1938, the GCMD site states, but all were minor and caused no damage. No single year during the 101-year period was free of tsunamis.

Of the total tsunamis, the GCMD tally shows 17 percent generated in or near Japan. The distribution of tsunamis in other areas is as follows: South America, 15 percent: New Guinea-Solomon Islands, 13 percent; Indonesia, 11 percent: Kuril Islands and Kamchatka, 10 percent; Mexico and Central America, 10 percent; Philippines, 9 percent; New Zealand and Tonga, 7 percent; Alaska and the west coasts of Canada and the United States, 7 percent; and Hawaii, 3 percent.

Prior to Sunday’s disaster, the most deadly tsunami in recorded history followed the eruption of the Krakatoa volcano in 1883 in Indonesia. An estimated 36,000 people died from the eruption, the majority from tsunamis, according to the site.

Pacific Tsunami Warning Center bulletins, as well other tsunami information, are available at the center’s Web site:


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