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Cars being swept up by a tsunami


A tsunami (pronounced soo-nahm-ee) is a series of giant waves that happen after underwater movement due to a variety of natural events such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, and meteorites. The waves travel in all directions from the area of disturbance, much like the ripples that happen after throwing a rock. The waves may travel in the open sea as fast as 450 miles per hour. As the big waves approach shallow waters along the coast  they grow to a great height and smash into the shore. They can be as high as 100 feet. They can cause a lot of destruction on the shore. "Tsunami" is a Japanese word. Tsu means "harbor" and nami means "wave."

Visit the FEMA library to download more facts about Tsunamis


  • Build an emergency kit.
  • Make a family communications plan.


  • Listen to evacuation orders and leave the area  immediately.
  • Take any pets with you.
  • Move inland (away from the ocean) and towards higher ground.
  • Stay away from the beach. Never go down to the water to watch a tsunami come in. If you can see the wave, you are too close to escape it.
  • If the water recedes from the shoreline or goes out to sea in a very noticeable way, get away from the area immediately. This is nature’s warning that a tsunami is coming.


  • Don’t return home unless officials tell you it is safe to do so. Tsunami waves can continue for hours and the next wave may be more dangerous than the first.
  • Stay away from debris in the water. It could be  dangerous.
  • Stay out of any building with water around it. Water can make floors crack or walls collapse.
  • Text, don’t talk. Unless there’s a life-threatening  situation, if you have a cell phone, send a text so that you don’t tie up phone lines needed by emergency workers. Plus, texting may work even if cell service is down.


Am I at Risk?

Tsunamis generally appear in the Pacific Ocean. Hawaii is the state at greatest risk for a tsunami. They get about one a year, with a damaging tsunami happening about every seven years. Alaska is also at high risk. California, Oregon and Washington experience a damaging tsunami about every 18 years.

Words to Know!


Away from the coastline

Seismic Sea Wave

Another way to describe tsunamis


Rubble, trash, random material, like large pieces of wood, metal, or plastic