A tsunami is produced by an underwater disturbance such as a volcanic eruption, earthquake, or landslide and can travel hundreds of miles per hour in the open ocean before smashing into land with waves as high as 100 feet or more.

Most tsunamis occur along the Pacific Rim, also know as the "Ring of Fire". The Ring of Fire extends about 40,000 km long stretching from New Zealand, along the eastern edge of Asia, north across the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, and south along the coast of North and South America.

The Ring of Fire is composed over 75% of the world's active and dormant volcanoes which produce 80% of the world’s tsunamis.

Pacific Rim Ring of Fire Map

Devastating Tsunamis

March 11, 2011 a large earthquake, 9.0 magnitude, struck just offshore in Japan triggering a major Tsunami in Japan's east coast. Japan is also dealing with a possible nuclear meltdown along with the earthquake and massive Tsunami.

The radiation fears added to the catastrophe that has been unfolding in Japan, where at least 10,000 people are believed to have been killed and millions of people have spent four nights with little food, water or heating in near-freezing temperatures as they dealt with the loss of homes and loved ones. Up to 450,000 people are in temporary shelters.

Below is a short tsunami video - please be advised it is disturbing to watch!


This Tsunami also struck the Hawaiian Islands shortly after 3:07 a.m. Friday (8:07 a.m. ET) -- less than eight hours after the magnitude the earthquake struck off Japan. The Hawaiian capital Honolulu is nearly 3,800 miles (6,100 km) from the epicenter of Friday's quake.

It brought 6 foot waves to Maui, where harbors stayed closed Friday night, and brought even larger waves to Crescent City, California. There was one fatality in the United States and that occured in California.

Read here to learn about Tsunami-Warnings

Other Major Events

On December 26 2004, an earthquake in the Indian Ocean measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale set off one that struck at 10 Asian and three African countries, leaving over 226,000 people dead.

Papua New Guinea experienced 2 earthquakes on July 17, 1998, both measuring 7.0, which produced a tsunami that ravaged 30 kilometers of northern coastline, sweeping away seven villages with a loss of more than 2,000 lives, according to official statistics. Local sources put the death toll at between 6,000 and 8,000.

On Dec 12, 1992, a tremor in Flores, Indonesia touched off several of them, swamping the island of Flores with 2,000 deaths.

August 16, 1976 a tremor in the Philippines caused one to hit the Filipino island of Mindanao, which left 5,000 dead.

The largest earthquake ever recorded happened May 22, 1960 off the coast of South Central Chile. It measured 9.5 on the Richter scale producing a devastating one affecting Pacific rim countries including the Philippines and Japan. The death toll was 5,700 in Chile, 61 in Hawaii and 130 in Japan.

Kamchatka Peninsula was hit by a earthquake measuring 9.0 on Nov 4, 1952 which caused a massive one all the way across the Pacific as far as Chile and Peru; death toll was over 2,300.

Another one hit Sanriku, Japan on March 2, 1933 following an earthquakePost Tsunami fishing Boat measuring 8.3; it caused more than 3,000 deaths.

Ecuador Jan 31, 1906, an earthquake registering 8.8 on the Richter scale off the coasts of Colombia and Ecuador produced a one claiming about 1,000 lives.

Sanriku - June 15, 1896, 10:30: following a 7.6 earthquake one crashed into the island of Honshu on Japan's Pacific seaboard causing the death of more than 27,000.

Basic Tsunami Facts

Tsunami Graphic

Earthquake induced movements of the ocean floor most often generate tsunamis.

  • If a major earthquake or landslide occurs close to shore, the first wave in a series could reach the beach in a few minutes, even before a warning is issued.

  • From the area where it originates, waves travel outward in all directions. Once the wave approaches the shore, it builds in height.

  • The topography of the coastline and the ocean floor will influence the size of the wave.

  • There may be more than one wave and the succeeding  one may be larger than the one before.

  • Areas are at greater risk if they are less than 25 feet above sea level and within a mile of the shoreline.

  • Drowning is the most common cause of death associated these waves and the receding water are very destructive to structures in the run-up zone.

  • Other hazards include flooding, contamination of drinking water, and fires from gas lines or ruptured tanks.

CAUTION - If there is noticeable recession in water away from the shoreline, this is nature's warning and it should be heeded. You should move away immediately.

What to do Before and During

Turn on your radio to learn if there is a warning if an earthquake occurs and you are in a coastal area.

Grab your bug-out-bag and move inland to higher ground immediately and stay there.

Stay away from the beach. Never go down to the beach to watch one come in. If you can see the wave you are too close to escape it.

It's Over - What to Do

The following are guidelines for the period following:

  • Stay away from flooded and damaged areas until officials say it is safe to return.

  • Stay away from debris in the water; it may pose a safety hazard to boats and people.

  • Save yourself - not your possessions.

  • Initiate your Disaster Recovery Plan

Current Warnings

Click here to check on current Tracking and Warning