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Updated tsunami maps remind the public they may be in a very precarious zone

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - You don't have to be right on the beach to be worried about the "what if" that comes with a tsunami.

An earthquake-generated series of waves, that can flood coastal property, is extremely possible and new maps help the public see where their risks are.

Clearly, you don't have to be living in a tsunami zone to be at risk.

The Santa Barbara waterfront for example has millions of visitors each year in areas that would be drenched in water if a significant tsunami came ashore.

It could happen with an earthquake in the Santa Barbara Channel and come with very little warning. Or, it could happen thousands of miles away and come with a predicted time and wave size.

Experts have updated their maps to show what areas would be first hit and hardest hit.

In Santa Barbara County they include portions of Carpinteria in and around the Salt Marsh, Santa Barbara's waterfront including the Funk Zone, Goleta Beach Park, portions of the airport and Ocean Beach in Lompoc.

The tsunami wave map updates can be found at Department of Conservation.

One resident recalls impacts from 2011 when an earthquake hit Japan, but the waves came to the California coast.

"It took out the bait dock. These things are real," said Barbara Sharghi. "And that was nothing, the bait dock was nothing. The tsunami in Japan was devastating." 

It makes many people start thinking about the possibilities more.

"Yes if there were even an inkling of a warning we wouldn't wait and see we would go to high ground," she said.

Emergency warning signs are posted throughout California's waterfront area to help people realize where tsunami waves could end up.

While we often think about a tsunami's impact right at the beach or beachfront streets, just a few blocks in there could also be a tsunami's impact on transportation corridors, like the union pacific railroad tracks which could get inundated.  That would have a significant effect on freight and passenger movement.

Michelle Brillion was in the area from Daly City and said, "We are near the coast. I probably should think about that more often."

One family visiting from San Francisco says tsunamis are not top of mind even though they live with on-shore earthquakes.

"That's the least of my concerns, maybe if I was in Japan or Indonesia but not in California," said Brillion.

Another visitor here strolling the waterfront came from a Northern California tour and was reminded of an earthquake there more than 100 years ago.

Jack Walsh said, "And they were saying that we are due for another one of those and that's when I started thinking about it. "

A tsunami hitting the coast here would also back up and overflow many creeks, like the section of Mission Creek in the waterfront up into the city.

"Where my place is, I'm across from all the shipping containers so one could end up in my living room someday," said Sharghi.

Even when the waterfront appears calm now Sharghi said, "We are not immune to horrible things happening here in Santa Barbara."

Advice from experts tells the public to go away from the shoreline if they feel a major quake and especially if it is determined to be offshore. They should not always wait for an emergency message if they feel they are in danger.

The Santa Barbara Channel has numerous fault lines and some are capable of major temblors that can trigger a tsunami.

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT NewsChannel 3. To learn more about John, click here.

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