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A tsunami (pronounced soo-nahm-ee) is a series of huge waves that happen after an undersea disturbance, such as an earthquake or volcano eruption. (Tsunami is from the Japanese word for harbor wave.) 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. They are sometimes mistakenly called "tidal waves," but tsunami have nothing to do with the tides.

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.

Did you know:

In 1964, an Alaskan earthquake generated a tsunami with waves between 10 and 20 feet high along parts of the California, Oregon and Washington coasts.

In 1946, a tsunami with waves of 20 to 32 feet crashed into Hilo, Hawaii, flooding the downtown area.

The Tsunami Warning Centers in Honolulu Hawaii and Palmer Alaska monitor disturbances that might trigger tsunami. When a tsunami is recorded, the center tracks it and issues a warning when needed. Click on the camera to see photos and learn more about the buoy system.

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