MC3 Dylan McCord/AP
A Japanese home drifts in the Pacific Ocean, two days after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Photo provided by the U.S. Navy.
A Japanese home drifts in the Pacific Ocean, two days after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Photo provided by the U.S. Navy. MC3 Dylan McCord/AP
It's been nearly a year since an off-shore earthquake in northeast Japan triggered a monstrous tsunami that swept westward into populated land, destroying buildings, land and lives, and wrecking nuclear reactors at the Fukushima plant.
On March 11, 2011, the magnitude-9 quake and tsunami killed more than 15,800 people and left nearly 3,500 people officially missing in Japan. Shocking videos show the wave surging into buildings and then receding, dragging wreckage with it.
Much of that wreckage ended up in the Pacific Ocean, and its fate depends on its weight, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Heavy items sank quickly to the ocean floor closer to the Japanese coastline, while lighter items were carried off on ocean currents in different directions.
NOAA predicts some of it could show up in Hawaii by the end of this year, and then on the coasts of North America between March 2013 and March 2014, notes the AP. Any debris that's left could circle back on ocean currents to Hawaii, returning to the islands between 2014 and 2016.
Ashley Ahearn of EarthFix reported for Weekend Edition Saturday one observer in Washington state believes he's already spotted tsunami debris. But NOAA cautions suspected items must be closely inspected before they can be officially called tsunami wreckage.
NOAA officials say it is "highly unlikely" that any of the tsunami debris is radioactive. A handout says that's because debris came from parts of Japan that were far from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant, and the wreckage was sucked out to sea before Fukushima released any radioactive water.