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Coastal Schools Drill For Tsunami, Would Rather Relocate

SEASIDE, Ore. - A pair of U.S. Geological Survey studies counted 14 schools in Oregon and 48 in Washington that could be underwater after a major tsunami. Administrators and parents in some of those places are talking about relocating their vulnerable schools. The Seaside, Oregon school district has the largest number of students in the tsunami zone along the Oregon coast.

At 11 o'clock sharp, students at Seaside High School get the order to evacuate.

"Please leave the building directly. Do not go to your lockers. Do not stop for anything..." shouted the school's P.A. system.

Seaside High School students and staff flee to higher ground during a tsunami evacuation drill Wednesday. By Tom Banse.
Seaside High School students and staff flee to higher ground during a tsunami evacuation drill Wednesday. By Tom Banse.

Around 450 students and staff swiftly move to the exits and head for the foothills inland.

From here, safety on higher ground lies more than a mile away. The school drills for the worst case scenario - the Big One - a magnitude 9.0 earthquake on the Cascadia fault zone. In that event, people along the Pacific Northwest coast would have about 15 to 20 minutes to scramble to higher ground before the first tsunami waves crash ashore.

"I feel like we would already be dead by now. Definitely dead, because it takes too long to walk here and the water like is pushing up. So we'd already be dead," says student Brittany Alley.

"If it was a real situation, we'd all be running," says Jessica Taylor.

Fellow student Nick Nelson is optimistic.

"You know it's going to come eventually. But I think we're all pretty prepared. We'll be all right," he says.

Kelly Schwenk agrees. "I think we'll make it. I'm more worried about crossing the highway and all the crazy traffic," she says.

After an offshore earthquake, you're supposed to evacuate on foot. Most likely, roads will be impassable.

By Tom Banse.
By Tom Banse.

"C'mon guys. Let's do it! I know you survived today, but if this was the real thing, we'd have an issue," says principal Sheila Roley as she spurs on stragglers as the 20 minute mark passes.

One student says he's accepted his demise.

"Well, I don't accept it, so keep on movin'," says Roley.

Roley adds: "Really the long-term solution us, which our community is working on, is relocation of all of our schools outside the tsunami zone."

The Seaside School District is currently negotiating with a timber company for land to consolidate and relocate four schools -- including the high school.

On Washington's Olympic Coast, the Quileute Indian Tribe is one step further along. This winter it secured land, but now needs to find money to build a new tribal school up the hill. Last year, Lincoln County, Oregon voters passed a school bond to relocate Waldport High School out of the tsunami zone. The groundbreaking for that new school happened last month.

Garibaldi, Barview and Bay City will hold a community wide tsunami evacuation drill this Saturday, May 5. People in the Coos Bay area can practice their walking evacuation routes during a community wide drill on Thursday, May 31st.

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.