Geologists say its possible a tsunami could hit Virginia

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Japan's devastating tsunami is a reminder the planet earth is constantly changing-- as tectonic plates collide, disasters happen. Could it happen here?

It's a frightening thought -- a huge wall of water swamping cities from Norfolk to New York.  Geologists agree it could happen here.

"It's almost inevitable there will be a tsunami hitting the East Coast of the U.S. Some time in the not too distant geological future," said David Kitchen, a geologist at the University of Richmond.

In other words some time within the next 10,000 years.So, the chance of it happening in our lifetime is tiny --  but there is evidence of it happening in the past and it could in the future.

So how could it happen?

"If you go north of Puerto Rico, there's what we call the Puerto Rico Trench.  It's the same situation as what we see in Japan," Kitchen said.

Where two tectonic plates rubbing together caused an underwater earthquake. Another source?  An underwater landslide on the continental shelf.

"And that has the potential in a very short space of time, almost instantaneously shift a massive amount of water to generate a tsunami.  In that case, it could reach the east coast in a relatively short period of time," Kitchen said.

A volcano on the Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa could wreak havoc here -- if so it would be the perfect storm of tsunami's.

"Travel at the speed of an aircraft, 400-500 miles, impact the United States; 200-300 feet, maybe 20 miles inland," he said.

But there's an even worse scenario.

"The only major threat to us here in Richmond would be a meteorite impact somewhere in the Atlantic ocean," Kitchen said.

And that would have catastrophic effects. The purpose of this story isn't to scare you, just to inform you. Where we live the tsunami threat is very low but that doesn't mean it's zero.

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