PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – So what makes a tsunami so powerful and deadly?  Some local experts explained.

Tsunami Coverage from CBS News

(Prof. Michel Boufadel. Photo provided)

Temple University environmental engineering professor Michel Boufadel (right) compares a tsunami wave hitting a shoreline to a cartoon truck screeching to a stop.  There’s a lot of pressure in that water that builds up, so a six-foot tsunami carries a lot of force behind it.

“The effects could be devastating, of course, from a physical point of view, from erosion and mechanical destruction of properties,” Boufadel says.  “There’s also a long-term effect because it alters the natural or the traditional pathways of water.”

(Dr. Stewart Farrell. Photo provided)

Dr. Stewart Farrell (right), director of the Coastal Research Center at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, warns that the best people can do is just get out of the way.

“You don’t see the effects of the wave until it approaches the shoreline,” Farrell says.  “And what happens is, the wave begins to slow down. But the wave height builds dramatically as it goes to break. And as it breaks, it moves inland with just a ton of water behind it.”

He adds that while Hawaii and the west coast of the US mainland are right in the crosshairs of the waves headed east from Japan, sensors on the east coast of the US might even pick up a slight increase in wave action.

Reported by David Madden, KYW Newsradio 1060.