ON THE OREGON COAST — There are reminders everywhere of what will happen, and yet people keep coming here, living here, in complete denial that horror, death and destruction are just half an hour away.
That 30 minutes is how long scientists tell us it will take the inevitable tsunami to hurl several billion tons of saltwater over homes, businesses, roads, breakwaters and harbors. It will start about 300 miles off the coast in a place called the Cascade Subduction Zone, thousands of feet below the surface, where such events have started before. A mountain-range-size stone slab of the planet will move over another slab, and all that energy will shove the ocean outward, part of it toward this lovely jewel of a coastline.
The people here, residents and tourists alike, may feel an earthquake. But that will be the least of their worries. We have seen most recently in Japan and Indonesia what their real troubles will be, when the 60-foothigh wall of water collides with the land at 600 miles per hour.
The residents here have had a tiny glimpse of such an event this season in the form of an enormous dock that was torn away from the Japanese coastline by the March 2011 tsunami that hit Japan’s east coast. The wooden structure drifted across the sea to Oregon, near Newport, a mute reminder that the Oregon Coast could be next.
Other reminders of what will come are thousands of official little signs in blue and white, posted in parks and along roads, that show a person running uphill, being chased by a wave. Hundreds of tsunami sirens are regularly tested. Near the coastal hamlet of Neskowin, a strange forest is a mute reminder of a past tsunami. It consists of hundreds of huge, snapped-off cedar trunks, none higher than six feet.
We go to the Oregon Coast to play and forget our troubles. Some of us have lived and worked there. It can be a carefree and happy life. We should not forget, however, that behind all that beauty lurks a beast.