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Tsunami debris floating across Pacific toward U.S.

  • FILE - This file photo taken March 13, 2011, and provided by the U.S. Navy, shows a Japanese home adrift in the Pacific Ocean, days after a massive earthquake and the ensuing tsunami hit Japan's east coast. Scientists believe ocean waves carried away 3-4 million tons of the 20 million tons of debris created by tsunamis that slammed into Japan after a magnitude-9.0 earthquake nearly a year ago. One-to-two million tons of it _ lumber and other construction material, fishing boats and other fragments of coastal towns _ are still in the water and are being carried across the Pacific by ocean currents. One to five percent of that may reach coastlines in Hawaii, Alaska, Oregon and Washington states. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy, Dylan McCord)

HONOLULU — Refrigerators, TVs and other debris dragged into sea when a massive earthquake hit Japan last March, causing tsunamis as high as 130 feet to crash ashore, could show up in remote atolls north of Hawaii as soon as this winter, with other pieces reaching parts of the West Coast in 2013 and 2014, experts say.

Debris from the tsunami initially formed a thick mass in the ocean of Japan's northeastern coast. But ocean currents have dispersed the pieces so they're now estimated to spread out some 3,000 miles halfway across the Pacific.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Tuesday the first bits of tsunami debris are estimated to make landfall this winter on small atolls northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands. Other pieces are expected to reach the coasts of Oregon, Washington state, Alaska and Canada between March 2013 and March 2014.

NOAA's tsunami marine debris coordinator, Ruth Yender, told an online news conference that agency workers were boarding Coast Guard flights that patrol the archipelago. NOAA also asked scientists stationed at Midway and other atolls to look for the debris.

In September, a Russian training ship spotted a refrigerator, a television set and other appliances west of Hawaii. By now, the debris has likely drifted so far apart that only one object can be seen at a time, said Nikolai Maximenko, a University of Hawaii researcher and ocean currents expert.


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