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A somber pandemic milestone, and Tsunamis 101

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Jerimiah Oetting
A group of boat owners monitor the lower end of Santa Cruz Harbor after a tsunami surge occurred last Saturday morning.

Plus, how scientists discovered an ancient mammoth tusk in the Monterey Bay, and the #BettyWhiteChallenge pays off.

Welcome to KAZU's weekly news roundup for 1/21/22. Here you'll find the top local stories of the week and a few national stories from NPR.

Almost a week after a volcano erupted near the Pacific island nation of Tonga, airplanes carrying emergency supplies finally landed. As NPR reported, the airport was covered in volcanic ash. The eruption sent massive clouds of ash 100,000 feet into the sky and triggered a tsunami that significantly damaged low-lying islands. The ash and seawater contaminated water supplies. As help arrives, stories are surfacing about how people survived — one man said he was pulled out to sea and swam for 24 hours.

Thousands of miles away, the tsunami was felt on the California coast. We woke up Saturday morning to advisories warning us to stay off the beach and out of the water. A surge flooded the Santa Cruz Harbor, which ended up suffering $6.5 million in damage.

KAZU’s Doug McKnight interviewed Dr. Gary Griggs, a distinguished professor of Earth and planetary sciences at UC Santa Cruz, about tsunamis. He said there is a very low likelihood of a catastrophic tsunami hitting the Monterey Bay coastline. In the past 200 years, he said California has had only 19 tsunami deaths.

Griggs said standing 10 feet above sea level should be a safe distance from the water's edge. He added that tsunamis don’t produce the giant waves surfers crave. Instead, they cause something like a rapid oncoming tide. During a tsunami advisory or warning, stay off beaches, the mouth of a river, harbors and any low lying areas. Click here to hear the entire interview.

Monterey County surpassed a somber milestone this week, reaching its highest case rate of the pandemic. Early numbers from Santa Cruz appear to show a similar trend. At a briefing on Wednesday, Monterey County Deputy Health Officer Kristy Michie said the case rate had reached 108.6 cases per 100,000 residents — higher than the previous record of 107.8 that occurred last January. Despite the high number of cases, Michie said hospitalizations are only about half of what they were at the height of last year’s surge, and deaths are less than a quarter.

“I know that it's been a long pandemic and folks really want to return to a more normal situation,” Michie said, adding that continuing preventive measures are crucial for the next few weeks.

Those preventative measures include seeking out boosters, wearing masks, and staying isolated if symptomatic. Michie said we haven’t reached the peak of the surge caused by the omicron variant, and that cases are expected to remain high for at least the next couple of weeks.

Tests are also in short supply in Monterey County. County staff urged test seekers to visit on a daily basis to find the latest on testing locations and availability.

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Leon Panetta
Panetta Institute

The Panetta Institute released it’s line-up for this year’s Leon Panetta Lecture Series. Due to COVID-19, the series will be presented online again. The 25th installment focuses on The 2022 Midterm Elections and the Future of our Democracy. Featured speakers include Hillary Clinton, David Cameron, Kelly Ayotte, Karl Rove, and James Carville. The first program is on February 28. Click here to read more about the four programs.

Annie Roth
Daniel Fisher of the University of Michigan and Katherine Louise Moon of the University of California, Santa Cruz inspect a fossilized mammoth tusk recovered from deep within the Monterey Bay.

How did scientists find an ancient mammoth tusk in the deep ocean, 10,000 feet below the surface of the Monterey Bay? This week, KAZU’s Jerimiah Oetting interviewed Annie Roth, a science journalist based in Santa Cruz, who reported on the recovery of this ‘scientific marvel’ for the New York Times. One scientist on the expedition called it an “Indian Jones mixed with Jurassic Park moment.” Don’t miss it! You can find the story, images of the tusk, and a link to Roth’s story here.

Beth Brookhouser
SPCA Monterey County
An envelope someone dropped off at SPCA Monterey County with a donation in honor of Betty White.

This Monday marked what would have been Betty White's 100th birthday. In honor of the actress and animal advocate, a social media campaign with the hashtag #BettyWhiteChallenge encouraged people to donate to their local animal rescue or shelter on her birthday. As KAZU’s Erika Mahoney recently reported, White was a big supporter of SPCA Monterey County, along with the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We reached out to the SPCA to see if the #BettyWhiteChallenge made a difference — and it did! Donors gave over $17,000, with sweet notes like “Thank you Betty White for all you do and all you did on behalf of animals of every sort!”

“While not all of the online donations were marked as part of the Betty White Challenge, we believe they must have been inspired by that movement, because this same date last year we received $80 in online donations,” wrote SPCA’s Beth Brookhouser in an email.

That’s it for this week! You can sign up to receive the Friday News Roundup from KAZU, right to your inbox. Just visit to subscribe.

Until then,

The KAZU Team

Corrected: January 21, 2022 at 2:10 PM PST
A previous version of this newsletter erroneously stated the surge of COVID-19 cases in January 2021 was caused by the delta variant. Delta did not become the dominant strain in the U.S. until the summer of 2021.