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Expert: In Case Of Massive Tsunami Long Island Would Be Doomed

LINDENHURST, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- As the horror of the historic Japan earthquake and devastating tsunami is broadcast across our television screens, anxious homeowners who live in local coastal communities are asking: could it happen here?

"Fear I have is living on Long Island, God forbid if there is a major tsunami. We are all washed up," Tina Erdman of Lindenhurst told CBS 2's Jennifer McLogan.

Erdman and all her neighbors who own waterfront homes along South Bay Street admitted they're suddenly filled with dread, worrying, could it happen here?

"Earthquakes that create tsunamis can happen anywhere," said Hofstra University Professor Charles Merguerian, chairman of the geology department.

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Merguerian said our last major earthquake here was 1884 -- so "we're due." He said an earthquake striking onshore would most likely move tidal waves away from land, but if its epicenter was offshore -- below the Atlantic -- the New York area could be submerged.

"The thing about tsunami waves is that they travel the same speed as jetliners -- 500-600 mph across the ocean," Professor Merguerian said.

In the event of such a calamity, Long Island poses many problems.

"Evacuating the Island is going to be literally impossible because it would be 3 million people trying to get off the island and there's only 2 bridges that get you to the mainland," said Frank Cassano of the American Red Cross of Nassau County.

Routes to the Throgs Neck and Whitestone would be jammed, so evacuees from the North and South shores would be routed to 50 shelters stocked and on standby dotting the Long Island Expressway, a contingency plan put together by the American Red Cross of both Nassau and Suffolk counties.

With satellite technology there would be advance warning of a tsunami. Emergency operations would automatically kick in.

"We have a system called 'code red,' which is essentially a reverse calling system followed by immediate texts, emails, sirens, television and radio alerts," said John Searing of Suffolk County Emergency Operations.

Experts say Friday's episode was comparable to releasing 700,000 atomic bombs worth of energy. Local homeowners hope earthquakes and tsunamis remain only a distant possibility.

Emergency responders said the hurricane of 1938 was the closest the New York area has ever come to a tsunami.

Concerned? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below.

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