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“There’s a bit of tsunami debris fever. It’s like an Easter egg hunt,” said Plybon, who has been cleaning up the Oregon coast for more than a decade. “People used to walk past debris. Now they want to be engaged.”

Health experts have said debris arriving on the West Coast is unlikely to be radioactive after having crossed thousands of miles of ocean. Tsunami waves swamped a nuclear power plant and swept debris into the ocean. The debris field, which once could be spotted from satellite and aerial photos, has dispersed. More than 18,000 residents were killed or went missing.

Volunteer Julie Walters has combed Mussel Rock Beach south of San Francisco for wreckage, but all that’s turned up so far are wave-battered boat parts and lumber of unknown origin.

If she did find an object with a direct link, “I would find it quite intriguing that it made this incredible journey across the Pacific,” said Walters, a volunteer with the Pacifica Beach Coalition. “It would also sadden me to think of the human tragedy.”

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AP writers Becky Bohrer in Honolulu and Tim Fought in Portland, Ore., contributed to this report.

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Follow Alicia Chang at http://twitter.com/SciWriAlicia