Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tsunami debris nears B.C. coast

Huge detritus field from Japanese disaster

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VANCOUVER -- The B.C. government says it will begin working with national and municipal officials this January to prepare for the massive wave of debris heading to Pacific Northwest shores because of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Meanwhile, residents in the B.C. coastal community Tofino are bracing for the arrival of detritus from the devastating disaster, while they debate whether the ruins have already started arriving on their shores.

Julianne McCaffrey, a spokeswoman for Emergency Management B.C., part of the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, confirmed the government is creating a Provincial Tsunami Debris Working Group.

She said the arrival of the debris, which some experts have said covers an area the size of California, has raised some "complex jurisdictional issues" that the working group will be tasked with clarifying, so officials hope to identify key members by Jan. 6.

"In most cases, the federal government has authority in the water and immediate shorelines, and in most cases, the local authority becomes the lead if the debris washes ashore in areas above the high-tide line," McCaffrey said in an email. "Occasionally, in the case of hazardous or human remains, it becomes provincial jurisdiction, which has not happened, so we cannot speak to hazards or issues that do not exist."

The provincial government's announcement comes as one U.S. expert said some flotsam, including 250-litre Japanese fishing buoys, has already landed on Pacific Northwest shores between Oregon and Alaska.

Computer models produced by the International Pacific Research Center at the University of Hawaii had said by the end of September, the debris field was still about 483 kilometres northwest of the Midway Islands, but scientists confirmed in a December website posting that some objects could have already arrived in Washington state.

Locals in Tofino, B.C., on the west coast of Vancouver Island, wonder whether flotsam -- such as plastic water bottles with Japanese writing -- has already arrived.

The massive flotsam field is tied to the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck Japan March 11, leaving as many as 21,000 people dead and washing millions of tonnes of debris into the Pacific ocean.

The tsunami also swamped the Fukushima nuclear-power plant, leading to fears some of the debris could be contaminated by radioactive material.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 26, 2011 A26

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