UPDATE: Tsunami advisory is no longer in effect

March 11, 2011 

Update, 8:50 a.m. Saturday:

The tsunami advisory has been canceled for the coastal areas of California. Tsunamis are no longer expected along the West Coast.

Update, 7:26 p.m. Friday:

Friday's tsunami warning required local authorities to carry out one of the largest evacuations in recent memory. Here is a breakdown on how they did it:

The San Luis Obispo County Office of Emergency Services was activated at 2:30 a.m. Friday morning after authorities received notice of the tsunami warnings just before 1:30 a.m. Officials activated the countywide tsunami emergency response plan, complete with scripted alerts and step-by-step protocol.

About 40 to 50 employees from local and state agencies convened in the early morning, officials said. They mapped out the evacuation in the low-lying areas along the coast.

The response team used GPS mapping with the state’s anticipated tsunami path maps to determine evacuation areas. Port San Luis was on the top of a list of danger zones issued by the state.

Residents with a landline in the mapped areas were called. Cell phones were only called if users had registered their phone numbers with the Sheriff’s Department.

The first reverse-911 calls went out at 5:55 a.m., officials said. Twenty-one Sheriff’s deputies, some held over from the graveyard shifts, were also dispatched to knock on doors telling people to go to the staging areas.

The evacuations were voluntary, Office of Emergency Services manager Ron Alsop said. But once residents left, they were not allowed back home until the evacuation was lifted.

CHP or deputies were positioned at roadways to keep people out, according to the sheriff’s department. Authorities did so for general public safety, as well as to keep out looters looking to steal from the empty homes.

Alsop wasn’t certain Friday afternoon on how many reverse-911 calls were made or the number of people evacuated.

But authorities’ estimates were in the thousands.

By the afternoon, 120 firefighters from throughout the county readied for an emergency response. Fire engines and rescue boats were also prepared.

Officials didn’t say the total number of police or deputies on duty.

Fifty employees from various agencies were working out of the Office of Emergency Services also by the afternoon.

The pier, beaches and parking lots in Port San Luis and the entire town of Avila Beach were evacuated. Also evacuated were Pismo Beach Coast Village in Pismo Beach; all areas west of Highway 1 from Grand Avenue south to 24th Street in Oceano; areas west of Ocean Boulevard from Old Creek Road north to Lucerne Road at Highway 1 in Cayucos; and the 200 to 300 blocks of Atascadero Road in Morro Bay and the Embarcadero.

Update, 4:19 p.m.:

All six evacuation centers that opened this morning in response to the tsunami warning will close by 5 p.m. today, according to a news release from the San Luis Obispo County chapter of the American Red Cross.

Approximately 40 volunteers helped at the evacuation centers set up in the county's coastal regions. American Red Cross officials also expressed gratitude to its volunteers and businesses that donated time or goods to the effort.

The following locations will be closed by 5 p.m.:

  • Arroyo Grande: Behind Marshall's store, 1128 W. Branch St.
  • Pismo Beach: New Life Church, 990 James Way
  • Avila Beach: PG&E Community Center, 6588 Ontario Road
  • Morro Bay: Vets' Hall on Surf Street
  • Cayucos: St. Joseph's Church, 360 Park Ave.
  • Cambria: Presbyterian Church, 2250 Yorkshire St.

Update, 3:49 p.m.:

The tsunami warning for the California coast has been downgraded to an advisory.

Update, 2:20 p.m.:

Evacuees throughout San Luis Obispo County can now return home while beaches, piers and harbors remain a possible threat to tsunami activity. The county office of emergency services lifted the ban around 2 p.m. for areas including Avila Beach, Cayucos, Morro Bay, Oceano, Pismo Beach, and Port San Luis.

Evacuation orders remain in place for local beaches, piers and harbors because more tsunami waves are expected through the day.

Campgrounds at beaches will also remain closed until further notice, according to county officials.

Update, 1:07 p.m.:

The tsunami warning remains in effect for San Luis Obispo County.

Measurements or reports of tsunami activity, from the NOAA:

LocationLat.Lon.Amplitude
Port San Luis CA35.2N120.8W06.6FT/02.01M
Port Angeles WA48.1N123.4W01.9FT/00.59M
Santa Monica CA34.0N118.5W02.4FT/00.74M
Santa Barbara CA34.4N119.7W02.3FT/00.71M
Point Reyes CA38.0N123.0W04.4FT/01.35M
Port Orford OR42.7N124.5W06.1FT/01.85M
Los Angeles CA33.7N118.3W01.0FT/00.32M
San Diego CA32.7N117.2W01.7FT/00.52M
La Jolla CA32.9N117.3W01.3FT/00.40M
Westport WA46.9N124.1W02.0FT/00.62M

Amp.: Tsunami amplitudes are measured relative to normal sea level, not crest-to-trough wave height.

Update, 10:57 a.m.:

While little damage has occurred along the San Luis Obispo County coastline this morning, the tsunami warning remains in effect as issued by the National Weather Service.

The NWS says the warning is in place for beaches and harbors north of Point Conception.

“Coastal areas north of Point Conception will experience a tsunami inundation between 3.5 to 7 feet,” the weather service says. “Currently the tide gauge at Port San Luis has reported an initial tsunami surge height of just over 2 feet.”

Tsunami surges are heights beyond normal sea levels. A tsunami amplitude, as the rise is known, will remain for up to 15 minutes before it recedes.

Surges can occur for up to 10 hours, and strong currents will exist along the coastline in that time, the NWS said.

Predicted surges are as follows:

  • Morro Bay: 3.9 feet
  • Port San Luis: 7.1 feet
  • Pismo Beach: 2.4 feet

Update, 10:54 a.m.:

Despite stern warnings to evacuate and closed access ways into North Coast parks and low-lying coastal areas, hundreds lined roadways overlooking the shoreline Friday morning, waiting for a tsunami surge that still hadn’t showed itself in the Cambria area even as the tsunami alert was due to expire.

Law enforcement and firefighters began making preparations about 3:30 a.m., shortly after the county activated the emergency status, for making evacuation warnings. Soon after dawn, deputies began notifying residents door to door along Cambria’s coastal Moonstone Beach, Park Hill and Marine Terrace residential and motel areas.

Park rangers and CHP officers began closing roadways, including Moonstone Beach Drive. Onlookers were shooed away from pullouts along low-lying areas along Highway 1 but allowed to stay on higher ground, including a large group gathered in the parking lot at The Hamlet restaurant on the north side of town.

Services district crews pumped down sewage levels in pump stations by the beach and turned off well pumps at the fields near San Simeon Creek Road.

Reverse 911 calls went to out residents and businesses that could be affected by the tsunami.

Marine Terrace residents Paul and Charlotte Couture, who are 93 and 92 years old respectively, and their visiting daughter Suzanne, got the call about 7:45 a.m. and evacuated soon thereafter. A evacuation center at Community Presbyterian Church hadn’t opened yet, so they went to the fire station next door.

Moonstone Beach motels notified their guests that evacuating, while not mandatory, was strongly advised.

“They called every room and then went around and knocked on every door to tell us we had to evacuate,” said Emily Chiu of San Francisco, who was staying overnight at the El Colibri Boutique Hotel & Spa with her fiancé Cuong Do.

Update, 10:27 a.m.:

Moonstone Beach Drive was closed this morning to keep onlookers away from the low-lying coastal strip in Cambria. CHP cars blocked entrances to the road, letting cars out but not in.

Dozens gathered along Highway 1 north of town were warned to leave the area by State Parks rangers.

The campsite at San Simeon Creek was evacuated.

Update, 10:20 a.m.:

Morro Bay High School and Bellevue Santa-Fe Charter School will not open today, according to a news release from the county.

Morro Bay High students at bus stops were being taken to Los Osos Middle School, where parents could pick them up.

All other San Luis Obispo County public schools are in session.

Update, 10:15 a.m.:

An official with the Five Cities Fire Authority said that by 11 a.m., authorities could start issuing information for evacuees to return home. Authorities plan to allow evacuees to return home in stages in hopes of avoiding traffic tie-ups.

Update, 10:12 a.m.:

At least hundreds of evacuees flooded the parking lot of the Five Cities Center in Arroyo Grande, gathering in front of the Walmart, Albertsons and Marshall’s stores.

Much of the crowding came from a couple of hundred recreational vehicles evacuated from Pismo Coast Village.

Pete Giambalvo is among the members of South County Police Volunteers monitoring the evacuation area set up by the American Red Cross.

He said that he and three other members of the volunteer group were summoned to the Pismo Beach Police Department at 3:30 a.m.

Giambalvo said that he and another volunteer were initially assigned to evacuate Pismo Coast Village at 4:30 a.m.

Early in the morning, he stopped a surfer headed to the water at Pismo Beach.

As of 10 a.m., no one is being allowed back into low-lying areas, Giambalvo said. Although they can't keep people from going home, he said they are advising them not to.

Glenda Neiswanger said she and her husband voluntarily evacuated from the Senior Mobile Home Park on the east side of Highway 1 in Pismo Beach.

She and her husband packed two cars with medications, food, blankets and water.

“We have enough food to serve lunch and dinner for a couple of days,” Neiswanger said.

Update, 9:36 a.m.:

Harbor authorities in Morro Bay report that a piling was damaged at the launch ramp, but no other problems have occurred. People have gathered at the Spencer’s grocery store to watch the ocean.

Update, 9:17 a.m.:

David Garza, 48, of Oceano took his family to the American Red Cross evacuation center in the Marshall’s parking lot at the Five Cities Center in Arroyo Grande.

Garza lives off of 19th and Beach streets near the coastline, on a property that has three houses where eight people live.

All of them evacuated together just after 7:30 a.m. and arrived at the center at 8:10 a.m., he said.

“My heart is still pumping,” Garza said. “I’m still worried about my mom and my family.

“I grabbed some water, dog food and (the) dogs, and some blankets, and that’s about it,” he added.

Update, 9:06 a.m.:

Water is now surging into Morro Bay, but not enough to do any damage. Water has gone up about 3 feet in the last 10 to 20 minutes. Morro Bay police have been told to keep people off the Embarcadero for another hour. Several more waves are expected.

Update, 9:02 a.m.:

About 1,000 people have been evacuated from the Pismo Beach and Oceano coast to the parking lot in the Walmart center in Arroyo Grande. There is also an evacuation center at a PG&E parking lot on Branch Street.

Pismo Beach police plan to keep evacuees in place until county emergency services officials declare the end of the emergency.

Update, 8:51 a.m.:

Coast Guard cutters left Morro Bay harbor this morning and headed out to open water in advance of the tsunami. The city also removed its boats in storage from the harbor area to higher ground. The Embarcadero remains closed to all traffic, and Tidelands Park is roped off as a precaution.

Update, 8:23 a.m.:

Eight sheriff’s department cruisers arrived at the Port San Luis offices early this morning to begin evacuations, said Steve McGrath, harbor manager.

“It’s been a full court press at my office,” McGrath said. “This may be the real deal. Some commercial fishermen have opted to head out to sea.”

An unusual event has been declared at Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. The plant is on high enough ground that waves are not expected to interrupt the operation of the plant, said Kory Raftery, PG&E spokesman.

Temporary evacuation locations have been set up at PG&E community center on Ontario Road, in the rear parking lot of the Five Cities Center behind Marshalls and at St. Joseph’s Church in Cayucos.

Update, 8:09 a.m.:

The city of Grover Beach has issued an evacuation warning, asking residents living west of Highway 1 to evacuate to higher ground.

The area of evacuation includes Le Sage Mobile Home Park and RV Park, the Pismo State Beach Golf Course.

The city advised that residents and businesses in the area east of Highway 1 to Second Street should prepare to evacuate to higher ground.

An evacuation location has been established at the parking lot behind Marshall’s Store in the Walmart shopping center, 1128 W. Branch St. in Arroyo Grande.

Update, 7:15 a.m.:

Areas of Morro Bay have been added to the evacuation list. Those that need to evacuate immediately are:

  • The 200 to 300 blocks of Atascadero Road;
  • All of the Embarcadero, including Tidelands Park and the boat launch.

Original story:

Areas of coastal San Luis Obispo County are being evacuated this morning due to the possibility of a tsunami causing major flooding in low-lying areas.

Residents, visitors and businesses in Port San Luis, Avila Beach, Pismo Beach, Oceano and Cayucos are being advised by the County Office of Emergency Services to evacuate to high ground immediately.

Specific areas that need to evacuate are:

  • All areas of Port San Luis, including the pier, beaches and parking lot;
  • All of downtown Avila Beach, including the beach;
  • All residents and properties along creeks that flood, including Sycamore Hot Springs, Avila Valley Barn, Avila Hot Springs, Ocean Canyon Pines Resorts and Avila Beach Drive;
  • Hidden Creek Canyon Road and Bellevue Orchard Drive residents and Bellevue-Santa Fe school.
  • Pismo Coast Village (a temporary evacuation center is being opened in the rear parking lot of the Five Cities Center behind Marshall's in Arroyo Grande);
  • All areas of Oceano west of Highway 1 from Grand Avenue south to 24th Street.(a temporary evacuation center is being opened in the rear parking lot of the Five Cities Center behind Marshall's in Arroyo Grande);
  • Cayucos areas west of the ocean from Old Creek North to Lucerne at Highway 1 (a temporary evacuation center is being opened at St. Joseph's Church)

The County Office of Emergency Services plans to provide more information as soon as possible.

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