(NEW YORK) — The devastating tsunami that hit Japan in March created lasting images of houses, boats, cars and entire neighborhoods pulled out to sea. It also caused a massive sea of debris — up to 20 million tons of it, all of it potentially toxic — in an area estimated to be twice the size of Texas.
Now, seven months later, that floating debris is on a direct collision course with the Pacific Coast of the United States — and it might be coming sooner than expected.
“Across the wide Pacific, the drift rate is about five to 10 miles per day,” oceanographer Curt Ebbesmeyer told ABC News.
Early computer models predicted that the debris would not hit the United States for two to three years. But a Russian training ship, the STS Pallada, following a map of the computer models, hit an extended field of debris in mid-Pacific, close to Midway Island, a U.S. territory about 1,700 miles from Hawaii.
The ship’s encounter with the 1,000-mile-long mass of tsunami debris came in September — 300 miles ahead of schedule, and nearly 2,000 miles from the site of the tsunami in Japan.
The ship’s crew found a battered, 20-foot fishing boat marked “Fukushima,” the same spot in Japan that was ground zero for the tsunami.
The Pallada’s crew sailed through the debris, surrounded by everything from appliances and televisions to furniture, all of it now headed straight for Hawaii.
The first of it is expected to hit Midway Atoll this winter, then Hawaii in early 2013, and the U.S. West Coast — mainly Washington and Oregon — in early 2014.
Experts now estimate that lighter objects will wash ashore Midway’s beaches this winter.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio