Washed-up dock stirs awareness in Oregon

by Rene Chen

Kyodo

When a massive dock drifted across the Pacific Ocean from Japan to the U.S. West Coast after the Great East Japan Earthquake, it brought along more than the invasive “wakame” kelp and mussels that were attached to it. The city of Newport, Oregon, where the docked beached itself last June, noticed the high interest it was generating and put it to good use.

Kate Brown, 55, a resident of Newport, was one of those who rushed to see the dock after hearing about it. Touching it, she thought back to what happened in Japan, recalling horrific images of entire communities being swallowed by the ocean.

Since the same ocean brought the 20-meter-long concrete and metal slab weighing over 100 tons from Misawa, Aomori Prefecture, all the way to her doorstep, thoughts of tsunami tearing apart the Oregon coast also flashed through her mind.

“I was at a loss for words. I became a part of the tsunami. The tsunami and earthquake became a part of Oregon. People around me were shocked,” she said.

Mark McConnell, the then-mayor of Newport who retired last January, saw how the dock captivated and shocked residents and tourists alike. People emailed him and talked to him about the dock, the debris and whether the city was prepared for tsunami.

McConnell saw a chance to educate residents and visitors about tsunami and ocean debris. He became one of the central figures in the push to put the dock on display at the local Hatfield Marine Science Center.

“I wanted people to see it. To educate the people who visit Newport and the local residents about tsunamis and the debris washing up,” he said.

“It connected us to the people on the other side of the Pacific. It made the tsunami something they could touch.”

“When that dock came in to our coast, there was so much traffic in this city” said Mark Farley, the visitor center manager at the science center, which is part of Oregon State University.

After the disaster hit Japan, a corner that informs visitors about tsunami was set up inside.

One of the top exhibits is the tsunami simulator, which offers a firsthand look at how destructive tsunami can be. This hands-on educational tool has “been a hit,” Farley said.

With the amount of interest tsunami-related exhibits are getting, and given how people flocked to the dock, they “anticipate it to be a popular attraction,” Farley said.

“A lot of lives were lost. Whatever we can do to get people’s heads tuned up on the coast, we need to do,” he said. “A tsunami can happen here any minute. A lot of people live on the coast. Some close to sea level. This is the threat that we live with.”

The impact of the dock’s arrival spread beyond city limits and into neighboring coastal areas.

Judy Kreitmeyer, 61, a retired resident of Lincoln City, 40 km north of Newport, walks along the beach three to four times a week and picks up any debris she finds. Kreitmeyer saw the dock with her husband, and the sight renewed her determination to clean up the coast.

“It just reminded me of how sad it is for the people that lost everything. The power of an earthquake and a tsunami, you could see it with something that big just sitting on the beach,” she said.

Lincoln City Mayor Dick Anderson said the dock has had a big effect on the residents, who are now prepared for tsunami.

“The dock opened some eyes,” he said. “As concerning as it might be, it’s not so devastating. We’re ready.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization, the dock is one of four from Misawa that were ripped away when the tsunami struck. Another one washed ashore in a rugged and remote section of Olympic National Park in Washington in December.