David Baxter via NOAA
This soccer ball with Japanese writing came from a school in a tsunami-stricken area of Japan.
A volleyball and soccer ball that washed ashore on an Alaskan island may be the first pieces of debris to arrive in the United States from last year's tsunami in Japan.
The sports balls were spotted by radar technician David Baxter on treeless, windswept Middleton Island in the Gulf of Alaska, Doug Helton of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle said in an agency blog post.
Baxter’s wife translated writing on the soccer ball and traced it back to a Japanese school in an area hit by the tsunami, Helton said.
He told the Anchorage Daily News the balls were the first tsunami debris retrieved in Alaska.
"There have been other items that were suspected, but this is the first one that we're aware of that has the credentials that may make it possible to positively identify it."
Helton, in the NOAA post, said the agency, the State Department and the Japanese Embassy and its Seattle consulate are working to confirm details and set up the return of other debris that comes ashore.
A magnitude 9.0 earthquake off Japan's northeast coast on March 11, 2011, triggered a 75-foot wall of water that flattened waterfront towns, killing 16,000. Three thousand people are still unaccounted for. The tsunami triggered a crisis at Tokyo Electric Power's Fukushima Daiichi atomic power plant, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee in the world's worst nuclear accident in 25 years.
U.S. authorities were immediately aware that the clockwise circulation of the Pacific's northern waters would deliver some remnants of that destruction to American shores.
A Japanese ghost ship Ryou-Un Maru turned up earlier in the Gulf of Alaska off Southeast Alaska after a 4,500-mile journey. The U.S. Coast Guard ended sank the vessel April 5.
In January, a half-dozen large buoys suspected to be from Japanese oyster farms appeared at the top of Alaska's panhandle and may be among the first tsunami debris.
State health and environmental officials have said there's little need to be worried that debris landing on Alaska shores will be contaminated by radiation.
This article contains reporting by Reuters and The Associated Press.
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