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Saturday, January 15, 2005

A Hurricane Tsunami in the Gulf of Mexico?

Gulf of Mexico tsunami unlikely,
but hurricane damage would be similar
BATON ROUGE (AP) ? A tsunami isn't likely in the northern Gulf of Mexico,
but a hurricane's storm surge could cause damage like that in the Indian Ocean,
shoving 15 to 30 feet of water inland, scientists say.

"I am not convinced, to be honest, that people fully comprehend that," said Greg Stone, a coastal scientist and wave specialist at Louisiana State University.

Hurricane Ivan's storm surge along the Alabama coast was 10 to 12 feet in height. However, since the levees around New Orleans would trap the water, and much of the city is below sea level, water would have been deeper than that.

"If the storm had passed over New Orleans or west of New Orleans, we would have flooded the city," said Ivor van Heerden, a geologist in the LSU Hurricane Center. "We would have had water 20 feet deep. That's above the average rooftop.

"We would have had 400,000 people trapped in the city. There would have been thousands who would have drowned. The devastation we have seen in the tsunami would be what we would see."

Tsunamis usually are caused by undersea earthquakes. Earthquakes in the Caribbean are minor ? nothing that would create the walls of water that crashed ashore in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and other nations on the rim of the Indian Ocean the day after Christmas, Stone said.

The only minor possibility of even a small tsunami might be from shifts in the slope of undersea mud that is deposited off the mouth of the Mississippi River, he said.

Van Heerden said small blocks do sometimes break loose along the continental shelf, creating endersea mudslides.

But a strong category 2 or 3 hurricane could push water more than 15 feet deep onto the shore. A category 5 hurricane could create a 30-foot storm surge, van Heerden said.

During Hurricane Ivan, one buoy about 100 miles southeast of the Mississippi River's mouth registered a wave 52.5 feet tall before it was torn from its mooring.

A wave that tall could not come to shore because it would break, toppling over from the friction created by the shallow bottoms just offshore along the Gulf of Mexico, Stone said.

Workers trapped on a semi-submersible platform about 140 miles south of Grand Isle during Ivan took pictures of waves crashing over handrails normally 60 to 65 feet above the surface of the Gulf. One company told Stone it found wave damage on a rig 90 feet above sea level.

"I hope we do not have to have a real disaster, like this tsunami, in order for the federal government to come along and help bolster our coast," Stone said. "You bolster the coast, you do something against storm surge."

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

The best thing to give to your enemy is forgiveness; to an opponent, tolerance; to a friend, your heart; to your child, a good example; to a father, deference; to your mother, conduct that will make her proud of you; to yourself, respect; to all men, charity. ~ Arthur J. Balfour




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