Nightly News   |  October 24, 2011

Debris from Japanese tsunami could hit US

It’s been seven months since the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, but debris from the disaster is slowly moving across the Pacific Ocean toward the U.S. NBC News’ Kate Snow reports.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Almost seven months now since the devastating earthquake and the resulting

tsunami in Japan. The numbers are still staggering from there: more than 15,000 people dead, 130,000 people forced from their homes, and tonight an amazing kind of environmental delayed reaction. A huge island of trash and debris from the quake drifting across the Pacific Ocean toward US shores. NBC 's Kate Snow with us here in studio with more on this. Kate :

KATE SNOW reporting: Brian , just after the tsunami hit, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Hawaii started making models using calculations based on tides and currents to project where all that debris from Japan would end up. But now they have proof, sightings from a ship telling them where potentially millions of tons of trash is and where it's headed. March 11th, Tsunami waves crash over Japan , wiping out entire communities, sweeping everything that isn't nailed down out to sea. More than 300,000 buildings, cars, boats, refrigerators, furniture, you name it. And this is where it all is today, giant fields of floating debris in the middle of the Pacific Ocean .

Mr. MIKE BECK (The Nature Conservancy Lead Marine Scientist): The area that we're talking about that this debris is floating within is something on the order of twice the size of Texas .

SNOW: US Navy ships have had to steer around the islands of garbage, and now the discovery that it's moving faster than scientists had expected. They now project some of it will hit the Midway Islands by January. Currents would sweep it to the US West Coast in 2013 and back to the Hawaiian Islands in 2014 and 2015 .

Mr. BECK: I'm very concerned about the impact. The everyday pollution from refrigerators and televisions and ports, that's a lot of toxic chemicals that are going to stress our marine life and habitats even more than they already are.

SNOW: Last month scientists at the University of Hawaii asked the crew on board this historic Russian tall ship the Pallada to document what they saw as they sailed from Honolulu to Vladivostok , Russia . Just past the Midway Islands , they couldn't miss the mess. The boat's crew made notes about appliances, boards, plastic bottles, buoys from fishing nets, drums, boots. A fishing boat they hoisted up left no doubt about where it all came from. The markings say Fukushima Prefecture . Government scientists stress that this isn't a wave of debris that will hit all at once, but all this trash could affect coastal habitats, wildlife, boaters, as well. They're also asking West Coast and Hawaii residents to help them track this trash, Brian . You can learn more about that on our website. Of course, that's nbcnightlynews.com.

WILLIAMS: Really an unbelievable slow motion story. Kate Snow with it here tonight. Kate , thanks, as