National Geographic : 2012 Feb
EDITOR'S NOTE PHOTO: DEL NORTE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY/WALT HARRIS COLLECTION Crescent City, 1964: "Buildings, cars, lumber, and boats shifted around like crazy," said a witness. Photos of the carnage were staggering. By the Treacherous Sea "Never turn your back to the sea," my mother used to tell me over the roar of the surf. She'd read about rogue waves coming in and sweeping children away, but I loved the magic I felt at the edge of the ocean and never gave her warning much thought as I ran up and down the beach exploring tide pools. That changed on Good Friday in 1964, when I was 12 years old. Just 25 miles south of my grandparents' beach cottage in Harbor, Oregon, a tsunami created by the largest recorded earthquake in North America swept down the Pacific Northwest coast with the speed of a jet and slammed into Crescent City, California. The photos of the carnage, so close to home, were staggering. Ten people from the community of 3,000 perished. "It was like a violent explosion," one witness reported. "The whole beach- front moved, changing before our very eyes." This month author Tim Folger dissects the geophysics of tsunamis and explains how they have shaped civilization for thousands of years. More than 3,500 years ago a volcanic eruption in the Aegean Sea generated a tsunami that inundated Mediterranean shores. Last year's massive tsunami in northeastern Japan killed some 16,000 and erased entire towns and villages from the map. No one, Folger says, ever expected Japan---with all its elaborate preparations---to be so vulnerable, but sometimes nature's fury overwhelms our most carefully crafted defenses. After reading his piece, I am even less inclined to turn my back to the sea.