We went to the coast today.

It’s the third time I’ve been to the Oregon coast since returning to the US after the tsunami.

The first time was awful. It was a beautiful day, and I had always loved the Oregon coast. I looked forward to going any time I could while I was in college. But I couldn’t enjoy it after the tsunami. All I could think about was how vulnerable we were. How vulnerable Seaside was. A flat little piece of land like that? The Japanese tsunami would have wiped it out. I kept looking around, trying to figure out the best escape route if there were an earthquake. And I wondered how many of the other people there–the families–would understand the threat or know what to do.

The second time was better. My oldest sister’s family was down for a visit, and we went to a beach that suited my fears more. High ground was closer. I was able to play with the kids and enjoy the day more, but the fear was still there in the background.

This time, again, was better. We walked on the beach and enjoyed an unusually nice February day. It was relaxing. All the same, I did keep looking out for escape routes, and I was aware, the whole time, how utterly screwed Seaside would be if a tsunami hit. Look what happened to Otsuchi.

The acute fear has faded, and I can enjoy the coast again. Still, I’ll never be innocent about it again. I know, all too well, that you can’t trust the ocean. I know how destructive it can be. We’ve taken it for granted here, and in so many places. We’ve built up communities on the coast like we don’t believe it can hurt us.

It can. Eventually, it will. The Cascadia fault is exactly the same kind of fault as the one that went in Japan. Oh, it may be more geologically stable here, but that fault will eventually go. I just hope we’re ready when it does.

And it frustrates me that people don’t understand what can happen. If I could do just one thing, I’d tell my story and make them understand that, yes, this can happen here. That they need to be prepared. Communities need to be prepared. Here in the US, we like to believe we’re the best at everything. We see disasters overseas and feel sorry for those poor brown people, but we feel like the same thing couldn’t happen here.

If the same kind of earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan’s Tohoku coast were to hit the West Coast, it wouldn’t be the same, no. It would be worse. The Japanese have us beaten hollow when it comes to tsunami preparedness. They’re better at building for earthquakes, better at having tsunami warning systems, better at educating their populace. Like it or not, the 2011 Tohoku quake was actually a best-case scenario. The confirmed death toll was 15,878. For such a populous coast, it could have been so much worse.

In America, I fear it would be. But I feel like no one wants to hear that. People don’t like to hear about potential disasters, especially if it would require action on their part or cost them money. I wish I could help, but I don’t know how.

So, for the record: If you’re near the ocean and the earth begins to shake, get out of there. If you haven’t felt an earthquake, but the tide suddenly starts to recede, get out of there. Get inland, get to high ground (30 feet at the minimum), but get out. The ocean is beautiful, but it isn’t safe.

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