NEW YORK (AP) - The force of nature steadily swept across the ocean, ready to inflict an unknown amount of havoc when it reached American shores.
Anticipation of a West Coast tsunami was a fairly rare television event, even as TV coverage mirrored the run-up to a hurricane. For viewers, the uncertainty Friday provided a compelling angle that briefly overshadowed news of the earthquake’s devastating impact on Japan.
“This is the biggest event on the West Coast for many, many years,” an excitable Chad Myers said on CNN. “I’m concerned about people who think it’s a Category 1 hurricane where you can go to the beach and watch. You need to be out of the way.
“Nobody on the beach,” Myers ordered. “Because we will lose you. Literally.”
Contrast that with a relaxed Bill Weir of ABC News, who stood in the dark on the Santa Monica pier and didn’t seem to expect much of anything.
“It’s completely placid right now,” he said. “There’s no indication of what is happening somewhere over the horizon.”
By mid-morning, the onscreen headline on Fox News Channel read: “Tsunami slams into Hawaii.” On CNN: “Tsunami hitting Hawaii right now.”
If that was the case, you couldn’t see it. There were grainy camera shots of a few beaches, but they didn’t show much.
“It’s dark,” said Carter Evans, a vacationing CNN producer pressed into duty in Hawaii. “It’s kind of hard to get eyes on this thing and the impact and the significance of the impact may not be known for some time.”
One puzzling part of the coverage was when commentators repeatedly referred to the anticipated size of the tsunami _ 6 feet, 3 feet or whatever. There was little indication of what that meant from a practical standpoint, including whether that meant a wall of water that would push significantly inland. NBC’s Meredith Vieira shed light when she asked a geologist that specific question.
The Weather Channel produced ongoing tsunami coverage, with some illustrative pictures of a California bay where rushing waters tore boats from their moorings and tossed them around.
Pictures from Japan provided an ominous backdrop of what tsunamis could really mean. The video was extraordinary, compelling images of a natural event that until these days of camera saturation, often was only visible in pictures of its aftermath.
“Those pictures speak louder than any words I can say,” said Fox News Channel’s Martha MacCallum.