Nightly News   |  September 08, 2013

What would happen if a tsunami hit California?

Mock ups show just how damaging a tsunami would be for California. But, how likely is it to happen? NBC’s Mike Taibbi reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> people who live on the west coast got a wake-up call this past week, on what it would be like if a huge earthquake in alaska were to trigger a tsunami that rumbled down the coast to california . the study, by the u.s. geological survey is only a hypothetical, but it shows how dangerous it could be. we get the story from nbc's mike taibbi .

>> nice to live on the water or near it. and california has 840 miles of coastline. but what if a 9.1-magnitude earthquake hit. not here, but at midday in the alaskan pennsylvania slaxt within four hours, the resulting tsunami hits crescent city in northern california and over the next two hours, ten-foot high surges roll into san francisco , ventura , the port of los angeles and long beach and san diego .

>> there are three-quarters of a million people that would need to be evacuated in an event of a tsunami of this size.

>> the model is based on history as well as geology. and alaskan earthquake that size in 1964 that triggered a tsunami that killed ten people in crescent city .

>> this is an incredible scene of devastation.

>> and the 2011 quake and tsunami in japan that killed thousands. in the california model, the ports of long beach and san diego take the biggest hits. though boaters all along the coast would be at risk. in fact in coastal ports in harbors like ventura , it's estimatesed that one in three boats could be damaged or sunk. pleasure boats , live-aboard, whole fishing fleets in peril. while some boat owners said there's no need to be anxious.

>> when one comes along, deal with it.

>> others say it's worth thinking about it and preparing.

>> i think it's definitely not a hoax. i think it's a definite possibility.

>> even though tsunamis following earthquakes sometimes miss their predicted targets as in hawaii last year. this model, swift and deadly devastation from a tsunami and damage in the billions emerged from fact-based projections.

>> there's enough of a chance that it's really worth planning for.

>> planning under way, along the length of this coastline. mike taibbi , nbc news, ventura , california .