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The magnitude Mw = 9.3 Sumatra earthquake of 26 December 2004 claimed the lives of an estimated 300,000 people living in coastal areas of seven different countries around the Indian Ocean. This event raised the question of whether similar far-traveled tsunamis generated by plate boundary faulting could affect the estimated 150 million people living in coastal areas of the United States, including Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Aside from the Pacific plate margin of North America, the North America-Caribbean plate boundary is the closest (∼2000 km) active plate boundary to coastal areas in the Gulf of Mexico and the U.S. Atlantic seaboard. Researchers also have proposed that other possible tsunami-generating sources that could affect coastal areas of the United States include slumping of the shelf margin along the Virginia-North Carolina margin [Driscoll et al., 2000] and slumping of volcanic edifices in the Canary Islands [Ward and Day, 2001].