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Thursday
Apr072011

Debris from Japan's Quake, Tsunami Heading to US West Coast

Sankei via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- While the world's attention is focused on Japan's Fukushima nuclear reactors, there is increasing concern over a massive debris field that is floating toward the West Coast of the U.S.

After the tsunami and 9.0 earthquake that hit Japan in March, enormous chunks of entire towns were washed away and are now being found floating in open waters.

Members of the U.S. Navy's 7th fleet, near the coast of Japan, say they've never seen anything like it

Houses, cars, even tractor trailers bobbing in the ocean have become a threat to shipping traffic.

"It's very challenging to move through these to consider these boats run on propellers and that these fishing nets or other debris can be dangerous to the vessels that are actually trying to do the work," Ensign Vernon Dennis said.  "So getting through some of these obstacles doesn't make much sense if you are going to actually cause more debris by having your own vessel become stuck in one of these waterways."

Dennis said the largest thing they might find that would hinder traffic would be capsized vessels or ships.

"There was really no way to weather such a way, such an event...so there's ships out there -- that are capsized or upside down or resting on their sides... in many cases are blocking the channels that go into these ports," he said.

More than 200,000 buildings were washed out to sea by the tsunami and now a powerful current called the North Pacific Gyre is carrying everything towards the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California before looping back towards Hawaii and Asia.

"Across the wide Pacific, the drift rate is about five to 10 miles per day, so it's not a terribly strong current, but it's deliberate," said oceanographer Curt Ebbesmeyer, who has tracked the path of ocean debris from around the world.  "It never sleeps."

He says a year from now, things that easily float like boats, wood from houses and plastic children's toys will appear.  Two years out, fishing supplies and nets will come ashore and after three years, shoes, plastic furniture and even entire dining sets.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio