Coastal Washington Tribe Builds Tsunami Refuge Tower

TOKELAND, Wash. (AP) — There is a new option to escape a tsunami for residents of Washington’s southwest coast.

The Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe broke ground on Friday on a 50-foot-tall (15.2-meter) escape tower in Tokeland, Wash., the Northwest News Network reported..

When the next 9.0 magnitude tear of the offshore Cascadia Fault Zone occurs, residents of the Pacific Northwest Coast will have about 15 to 35 minutes to get to higher ground and escape a possible tsunami.

Tokeland is on a long, flat peninsula with no high ground within walking or running distance for many.

Shoalwater Tribal Council member Lynn Clark said at the groundbreaking ceremony that the tower would save lives. Tribal leaders and the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it should be an example and an inspiration to other vulnerable coastal communities.

Tribe emergency management director Ken Ufkin said he can sleep better now that the sturdy two-story tsunami refuge tower exists. The tower stands near the middle of the Tokeland Peninsula, nearly 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) long.

“It allows people, even if it’s 2.30am in their pajamas, to pick up your family and get here in a very short time – under 15 minutes for almost everyone from Tokeland Point to the heart of the reservation,” Ufkin said.

The tower will be open to everyone in the event of a disaster. The tower platforms have a capacity of over 400 people, which is considerably more than the tribal population of the small Shoalwater Bay reservation.

The Tokeland evacuation tower resembles free-standing tsunami towers built in Japan, but officials said it was the first of its kind in North America. Two other tsunami refuges on the northwest coast — in Newport, Oregon, and Westport, Washington — are reinforced platforms on the roofs of a school or university building.

Design engineer Cale Ash, who worked on the Tokeland Tower for Degenkolb Engineers, said tsunami experts had modeled the maximum wave height near the mouth of Willapa Bay at 16.3ft (4 .9 meters) and said the design team had rounded to 20.2 feet (6.1 meters). to be sure. He said the floor of the lower platform is 33 feet (10 meters) above the ground and the floor of the upper platform is 43 feet (13.1 meters) high.

Ash also said at the inauguration that the tower sits on concrete piles 55 feet (16.7 meters) deep to withstand violent shaking from the peninsula’s soft, sandy soils.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided $3.8 million for the design and construction of the Tokeland Tower. The Shoalwater Bay Tribe contributed an additional $1.2 million to complete the budget.

The next most likely place in the Northwest to build a tsunami evacuation tower is the town of Ocean Shores, Wash., which is working with Degenkolb on a design.

Some emergency planners have qualms about relying on vertical evacuation structures as this leaves a potentially large number of people in a disaster area who will need to be rescued later.

Ufkin and others say, however, that reaching safety quickly by moving away is unlikely to be an option if a major earthquake warps roads and knocks down utility poles in low places such as Tokeland – or in Ocean Shores and Long Beach, Washington, and parts of Seaside and Warrenton, Oregon, for example, too.

Geologists and emergency planners consider the Cascadia Subduction Zone fault to be among the most significant disaster threats in the United States. The offshore fault last ruptured in January 1700, generating a tsunami that crossed the Pacific to Japan.

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