Evacuations after tsunami warning


Tsunami evacuation sign points towards Farallone View Elementary School in Montara. (Robyn Graham)

While damage from the tsunami was insignificant to the Bay Area, many were unsure of its actual strength when the tsunami advisory increased to a warning around 4 a.m. last Friday.

Some went to evacuation sites like Half Moon Bay High School and Skyline Boulevard at the Highway 92 intersection, while others just went to higher ground.

Skyline student Maria Martinez said the experience was scarier than the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. She awoke at 5 a.m. at her Half Moon Bay home, half a mile away from the beach, and was told to evacuate.

“I woke up to a cop telling my neighborhood over a loud speaker to head to higher ground,” Martinez said. “It was pure and utter chaos.”

Sisters Cherissa and Carina Woudenberg in Mel Zucker ‘s geology class also felt the panic at 5 a.m. when their father came to wake them up. They evacuated from their home in Moss Beach, being close enough to hear the ocean from their house.

They tried to bring their cats with them and only brought one because they couldn’t find the other one fast enough, in addition to their geology book so they could read up on tsunamis.

“We didn’t know that early in the morning,” Cherissa Woudenberg said. “It was just,‘Get up; there is a tsunami warning. We got to get up.'”

Carina Woudenberg received San Mateo County’s Community Alert System alert texts that day and noted the difference between the earlier texts and the later ones as more was learned about how threatening the tsunami would be.

“It seemed so dramatic,” Carina said, referring to the first text telling people to evacuate. A later text message at 8 a.m. said it was “advisable” to move inland.

“It was sort of exciting. I mean, at first it was a little scary, but then I thought: ‘This is geology!'”

Skyline geology professor Mel Zucker felt the same excitement and genuine interest as his geology students, especially since his Geology 105 class is currently learning about earthquakes. Zucker noted an increased student interest in 2004 after Indonesia’s earthquake and tsunami.

“What really causes the action is when the sea floor moves vertically, like in a subduction plate: The water above it is displaced,” Zucker explained.

While California has major subducting plates, they are all on land and less of a threat because when an earthquake happens and they move, it is only displacing air, compared to water, said Zucker.