America's Pacific states are vulnerable to great sea waves like the one that devastated coastal northwestern Papua New Guinea, and the threat may be growing in the Pacific Northwest.

As many as 3,000 people may have died July 17 when a giant wave estimated at 23 feet high slammed ashore in northwestern Papua New Guinea. Thousands more were injured and made homeless by the wave, known as a tsunami."Since the New Guinea event people have asked repeatedly if it could happen here," Oregon state geologist Don Hull said. "The answer is yes." Indeed, similar damaging waves have struck Alaska and Hawaii, and an offshore earthquake fault threatens to send them to the Pacific Northwest.

Earthquakes from the Cascadia fault have generated major tsunami over the last several thousand years, Hull said, with an estimated recurrence rate of 300 to 600 years. The last such quake was in January 1700, he said. "We're 298 years and some months into the run-up to the next event."

Hull's warning came at a briefing on tsunami by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is responsible for studying and issuing warnings of the great waves.

The great 1964 Alaska earthquake generated a tsunami that killed 107 people in Alaska and caused $10 million in damage on the U.S. West Coast where 15 died - many in Crescent City, Calif. The wave eventually reached Hawaii, where damage reached $68,000.