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The Next Tsunami: Living on a Restless Coast

The Next Tsunami: Living on a Restless Coast

by Bonnie Henderson

On a March evening in 1964, ten-year-old Tom Horning awoke near midnight to find his yard transformed. A tsunami triggered by Alaska's momentous Good Friday earthquake had wreaked havoc in his Seaside, Oregon, neighborhood. It was, as far as anyone knew, the Pacific Northwest coast's first-ever tsunami. More than twenty years passed before geologists discovered


On a March evening in 1964, ten-year-old Tom Horning awoke near midnight to find his yard transformed. A tsunami triggered by Alaska's momentous Good Friday earthquake had wreaked havoc in his Seaside, Oregon, neighborhood. It was, as far as anyone knew, the Pacific Northwest coast's first-ever tsunami. More than twenty years passed before geologists discovered that it was neither Oregon's first nor worst tsunami. In fact, massive tsunamis strike the Pacific coast every few hundred years, triggered not by distant temblors but by huge quakes less than one hundred miles off the Northwest coast. Not until the late 1990s did scientists fix the date, hour, and magnitude of the Pacific Northwest coast's last megathrust earthquake: 9 p.m., January 26, 1700, magnitude 9.0 - one of the largest quakes the world has known. When the next one strikes - this year or hundreds of years from now-the tsunami it will generate is likely to be the most devastating natural disaster in the history of the United States. Illuminating the charged intersection of science, human nature, and public policy, The Next Tsunami describes how scientists came to understand the Cascadia Subduction Zone-a fault line capable of producing earthquakes even larger than the 2011 Tohoku quake in Japan-and how ordinary people cope with that knowledge. The story begins and ends with Tom Horning, who grew up to be a geologist and returned to his family home in Seaside - arguably the Northwest community with the most to lose from what scientists predict will be an "apocalyptic" disaster. No one in Seaside understands earthquake and tsunami science-and the politics and psychology of living in a tsunami zone-better than Horning.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Watching the horrific devastation of tsunamis in Southeast Asia, Chile, and Japan, it is easy to forget that the same outcome is possible along the coast of America’s Pacific Northwest. Henderson redresses this omission, focusing on Oregon’s swath of the Ring of Fire, that Pacific belt responsible for 90% of the world’s earthquakes. She begins with a tsunami that hit Seaside, Ore., in 1964, and follows the career of Tom Horning, then a boy in Seaside, whose life is interwoven with the story of the scientific realization that the Earth’s crust is made up of moving plates, something still hotly debated 50 years ago. Most Oregonians doubted that they were in danger until a combination of data from soil samples, historical records, and Native American oral traditions proved that in 1700 there had been a disastrous tsunami there. Today the existence of the Cascadia Subduction Zone is well-accepted, but remains such an intangible danger in the public mind that little preparation has been made for the inevitable tsunami. Henderson’s decision to weave a personal narrative into this work obscures the thrust of her argument. Nevertheless, that the West Coast of the U.S. is ill-prepared to deal with a major earthquake and tsunami comes through loud and clear. (Apr.)
From the Publisher

“Brilliantly written... The depth of reportage is impressive.” —William Dietrich, New York Times bestselling author of The Barbed Crown, Emerald Storm, Blood of the Reich, and more

“Henderson has a novelist’s knack for getting into the hearts and minds of her characters, and she makes complex science not only clear but exciting.” —David Laskin, author of The Family and The Children’s Blizzard

Bonnie Henderson's strong voice and sharp eye bring to life the boots-on-the-ground reality of earthquake science. A valuable addition to any Northwest bookshelf.”  —Thomas Hager, author of The Alchemy of Air

"In The Next Tsunami: Living on a Restless Coast, Bonnie Henderson has given us not only the geological history of our coast, but also the stories of the many men and women who have spent their lives discovering this history. This is a must-read for those of us who have chosen the coast to be our home and gives us knowledge to deal with the uncertainty we face here. And as long as Tom Horning lives here, I feel, I too can make it." —Karen Emmerling, Beach Books, Seaside, Oregon

"The book is a must-add to your shelf of Northwest disaster lit and serves a reminder for those who live on water to head for the high ground when things start to shake. You wont have time to build an ark." —Knute Berger, Crosscut

"Tension occupies the center of "The Next Tsunami," which is by turns a story of obsession, a geologic mystery and an inquiry into how we deal with disasters—or, more often, don't." —Los Angeles Times


Kirkus Reviews
Eugene-based nature writer Henderson (Strand: An Odyssey of Pacific Ocean Debris, 2008, etc.) organizes her narrative around the ways of Pacific tsunamis and the geology underlying them, with a focus on an utterly logical hero: Tom Horning, who, in 1964, barely escaped the freak tidal wave that destroyed much of the region. Resulting from an Alaskan earthquake, though, that great oceanic swell might not have been as freakish as all that. As Henderson writes, though the average interval between such events was about 240 years in the "southernmost segment of the rupture zone," the law of probability points to more frequent action along "a coast that only occasionally but devastatingly was wiped clean by giant tsunamis triggered by giant earthquakes." Naturally, locals—not least Horning, now a geologist—paid close attention to the Japanese tsunami of 2011, and though that did not visit destruction on the Pacific Northwest, it's pretty clear that even with the programs of retrofitting and building-code upgrading that Henderson describes, the region is likely to suffer greatly once the next big one hits. The author does service in pointing to possible events that have long been overshadowed by projections of the next major earthquake in the vastly more populated areas to the south. Although her prose is more scattershot than the densely layered encyclopedism of John McPhee's geological writings, she covers a great deal of scientific ground while never losing sight of the human interest side of the story. As with McPhee, there's poetry to her ground truthing, too: "Sonar alone could not reveal the existence of these ridges; sediments coursing down the Columbia River for millennia had filled and smoothed the bathymetry of the ocean floor here." Of more than local interest, though Northwesterners should pay particularly close attention to the news Henderson brings.

Product Details

Oregon State University Press
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5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Journalist Bonnie Henderson is the author of Strand: An Odyssey of Pacific Ocean Debris (OSU Press)—an Oregon Book Award finalist and one of the Seattle Times’ Best Books of 2008—as well as two hiking guidebooks. She has been a newspaper reporter and editor, an editor at Sunset magazine, and a writer for a number of magazines including Backpacker, Ski, and Coastal Living. Currently a freelance writer and editor focusing on the natural world, Henderson divides her time between the Oregon coast and her home in Eugene, Oregon.

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