NW braces for 1.5 million-ton onslaught of tsunami debris

NW braces for 1.5 million-ton onslaught of tsunami debris

LACEY, Wash. - Ecology teams across the Pacific Northwest are bracing for the onslaught of tsunami debris headed for our shores - and a cleanup effort unlike anything we have ever seen.

Boats, homes and a giant dock have already washed up on our coast. And that could be just a taste of what's to come.

On Sunday, Oregon opened tsunami debris dump stations - just days after a new report painted a grim picture of what lies ahead.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says 1.5 million tons of debris from the 2011 Japanese tsunami is still offshore and will continue to wash up on Pacific Northwest beaches for several years to come.

It's uncharted territory for the region.

Every week, all kinds of junk and litter from the tsunami - styrofoam, bottles and buoys - keeps washing up on Washington state beaches.

"There's never been a massive tsunami as what's happened in Japan, and so this is totally new territory," says Curt Hart with the State Department of Ecology.

Piece by piece, crews are removing that debris.

But there may be an even bigger danger - for fishermen at sea.

"Of course you can paint all kinds of grisly scenarios," says Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. "What we're interested in doing is solving problems, and I think we're making a lot of headway now."

How real is the threat?

In the past weeks a 66-foot dock has washed up in Oregon and a large fiberglass boat with Japanese writing has washed up near Ilwaco, Wash.

Running into something like those in the dark, says one fisherman, could mean disaster.

"Well, if you hit a bigger item like that, I have a wood boat - it's a 60-foot wood boat - so it's a big thing," says tuna fisherman Mark Schneider. "But if you hit something like that, it's going to sink it. And then you're in the water."

Oregon lawmakers are trying to divide up the responsibilities. They say it's up to NOAA to track debris, and up to private parties to report what washes ashore.