Mega-wave will one day hit US

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 31, 2005

The recent tsunami tragedy in Asia brought to the forefront a question that has lingered in the back of America's mind for the majority of the century:

Could it happen here?

It could.

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Apparently, there's a big old chunk of rock that represents a significant portion of La Palma Island (in the Canaries, just off the coast of Africa) with the potential to slide into the Atlantic Ocean and wreak Day-After-Tomorrow-like-havoc. One outburst from the island's volcano could be all it takes to loosen things up.

It almost happened in 1949. Following an eruption, a crack appeared in the volcano and the western half of La Palma began to slip into the Atlantic. It stopped after sliding only a few meters.

Basically, what it boils down to, is you can't have that much mass falling into the water without causing some sort of repercussion. Major, major repercussions. For years scientists thought underwater earthquakes were the only thing which caused tsunamis, one of which was seen last December to the horror of the world and those poor souls living on the costal islands of Thailand, Sri Lanka and India. Only recently have scientists started to pay major attention to what happens when a large landslide occurs near an ocean or other sizable body of water.

The result?

A mega-tsunami.

Case-in-point: In 1958, in Lituya Bay, Alaska, a cliff fell into the water causing a wave to be produced that was higher than any skyscraper on earth.

And that was a 'modest' landslide by most accounts.

If the Canaries broke up and sent a doomsday rock into the Atlantic it would mean an end to civilization, at least as we know it, along the entire Eastern United States. Scientists estimate that massive walls of water could engulf New York, Boston, Miami, Washington D.C., and virtually the entire Eastern Seaboard. The water would reach inland as far as 20 miles. The Statue of Liberty would be up to her waist, Wall Street would be underwater, and the death toll would be catastrophic. Much more than we've seen with Asia because with just eight hours between when the landslide occurred and when the mega-tsunami hit, there would be barely any time to evacuate. We're talking millions of dead here.

Relax. It's not going to happen tomorrow. And it may not happen for over tens of thousands of years. Scientists estimate that landslides like the one that could occur at La Palma happens once every 4,000 years.

Naturally, that is.

But if a terrorist, or some other hostile nation, could acquire a nuclear weapon, tactically placed just right along the crack at La Palma…

Scary, huh?

Kevin Pearcey is editor of The Luverne Journal. He can be reached at

335-3541 or

via email at kevin.pearcey@