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Tsunami debris still heading to Washington coast

A Seattle oceanographer says while a huge field of tsunami debris has yet to hit the Washington coast as predicted, it's still on its way. (AP file photo)

Debris from the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami is still expected to hit the Washington coast, just later than previously predicted.

Retired University of Washington oceanographer Curt Ebbesmeyer of Seattle has been tracking the huge field of debris and had been predicting it to start washing up in Washington in October.

While he’s not sure why it didn’t happen yet, he says it’s still looming out in the Pacific Ocean and could start making landfall in a matter of weeks.

“It didn’t go away because we haven’t seen it,” he said. “This quiet is a little bit ominous,” he tells the Everett Herald.

There have been limited reports of tsunami debris washing up on local shores. The state Department of Ecology says other than some incidents in Willapa Bay on the Washington coast, reports have been spotty.

“It’s been pretty quiet since July and August,” says Linda Kent, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Ecology.

Curt Ebbesmeyer of Seattle, a retired University of Washington oceanographer who has been tracking the trash, was one of those predicting an October onslaught.

Ebbesmeyer says while the the coast is expected to get most of the debris, come of it could show up in the inland waters through the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

He says the debris field stretches approximately 2,000 miles across the ocean and 500 miles from north to south. It’s about 400 miles offshore

Ebbesmeyer says with it traveling about 10 miles a day, it could hit the coast around mid-December, depending on the currents and weather.

But government officials are much more conservative in their predictions, saying while they anticipate an increase in debris washing up on the West Coast, the data “doesn’t show any flotilla or mass of debris,” says National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spokeswoman Keeley Belva in an email.

The most recent map on the NOAA marine debris website shows a wide area northeast of Hawaii about 1,000 miles across as the “highest concentration of particles.”

Belva says of 1,406 official debris reports from California to Alaska, only 15 items have been definitively traced to the tsunami. Three of these were found on the Washington coast, including a large dock that washed ashore at Cape Disappointment in June.

Ebbesmeyer says he has no doubt, even though it hasn’t hit yet, the debris is on the way in the coming months.

“One thing’s for certain,” he said. “It’s still out there.”

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