'Subtle’ Tsunami Surges From Undersea Eruption Hit Washington Coast, as Officials Warn of Waves to Come

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The first tsunami surges from an underwater volcanic eruption in the South Pacific began hitting the Washington coast shortly after 8:30 a.m. Saturday and were — as predicted — quite modest.

“It was very subtle,” said Scott McDougall, emergency management director for Pacific County, which includes the Long Beach Peninsula. “It didn’t progress beyond the beach.”

Surges of up to 3 feet are expected to continue for at least three more hours, and are coinciding with a moderate high tide, he said.

“These don’t appear to be damaging waves in any way,” McDougall said. “They just appear to be rising water levels.”

But Washington’s Emergency Management Division warned in a tweet that 3-foot waves could continue to arrive for several hours, and could be worse than originally forecast.

Subsequent waves can be higher than the first.

King County Emergency Management also said waves and strong currents could reach Puget Sound later this morning, and advised residents to avoid beaches and waterfront areas.

Pacific County issued warnings to local harbors, where even small tsunamis can sometimes be amplified. But based on reports from Hawaii, where harbors escaped damage, MacDougall said he isn’t too concerned.

However, he warned people to stay off the beaches — advice that many people are not heeding.

MacDougall observed the initial tsunami surge from a safe vantage point behind a line of high dunes. But as he stood there, about a dozen people drove past him directly onto the beach.

“It makes me cringe,” he said.

The volcanic eruption struck off the coast of the Pacific nation of Tonga, where much larger tsunami waves sent residents fleeing for higher ground.

Tsunamis of 1- to 3- feet are expected to continue sweeping northward up the Washington coast, into the Strait of Juan and around the San Juan Islands.

“I think it’s not going to be a very large tsunami,” said Harold Tobin, director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network at the University of Washington.