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Japan tsunami debris headed toward U.S. faster than expected

When Japan was hit by a massive tsunami in March, the 30-foot-high waves washed whole houses, boats, cars and even some neighborhoods out to sea.

Tsunami debris in northeastern Japan in April (Kyodo News/AP)

Initially, the flotsam — twice the size of Texas — wasn’t estimated to hit the U.S. for another two to three years. But after a Russian training ship crashed into a field of debris in September near Midway Island, computer models were forced to recalculate.

The new estimate: The debris will reach the Midway Atoll near Hawaii this winter, the rest of Hawaii in 2013 and the West Coast in early 2014.

The Russian ship STS Pallada’s collision gives a clue about what those who live along the Pacific Coast might expect.

After Pallada met the 1,000-mile-long mass of tsunami debris in September, the ship’s crew found a battered, 20-foot fishing boat marked “Fukushima.” (Fukushima was the site of the nuclear power plant that was crippled by the tsunami.) The boat was also surrounded by appliances, televisions and furniture.

But computer researcher Jan Hofman told the Los Angeles Times that the debris deluge may not be so bad. Hofman says some of the debris will sink along the way, and the rest of it will likely arrive at the coast in patches, like “confetti soup.”

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