WESTPORT, Wash. - Westport is a fishing town that lives by the sea. Now it's taking extraordinary steps to make sure its next generation doesn't fall victim to the ocean.
With predictions that a major earthquake could someday rock the coast and overrun the area with a tsunami, a new elementary school will be built starting this September with a refuge from a tidal wave.
“We have no natural high ground anyplace nearby the campus so we have to vertically evacuate,” said Ocosta School District Superintendent, Paula Akerlund.
The school district will build a concrete and steel building with features you won't find anywhere else in this country. It will have a gym firmly anchored with pilings 50 feet deep. A platform on top could keep at least 1,000 people safe from a thirty foot wall of water.
“It’s available to anyone in this community,” Akerlund said.
Tsunami route signs on coastal highways now point the way to higher ground, but the reality is that students and teachers in the school district would only have 15 to 20 minutes to find someplace safe.
“We would not have time to hop in a car or school buses and get to safe high ground before the tsunami inundation occurred,” Akerlund said.
Parent Kevin Hatton feels better knowing that if he was separated from his kids during a disaster, they would have a good shot of survival on the roof of their own school.
“It’s kind of a no-brainer that we should have something in place,” Hatton said.
The project is expensive. It will cost close to $14 million. The school superintendent is proud of the fact that almost 70 percent of voters approved it and put the safety of their children first.