Video of rogue California wave misrepresented as Japan tsunami

A TikTok video with millions of views purports to show footage of massive surf wiping out pedestrians as a deadly 7.5-magnitude earthquake rocked Japan on January 1, 2024. But the clip was captured days earlier when a rogue wave spilled over a sea wall in Ventura, California.

"BREAKING: SEE TSUNAMI AFTER 7.6 EARTHQUAKE HITS JAPAN," says text over the January 1 video, which amassed more than 7.9 million views on TikTok.

Screenshot from TikTok taken January 2, 2024

The post shows the opening seconds of podcaster Steve Ram's episode about the New Year's Day earthquake that rattled the main Japanese island of Honshu, killing at least 73 people and leaving rescuers battling the clock and powerful aftershocks to locate survivors.

The montage begins with two clips that show people running as a giant wave barrels into the street. The same shots spread across TikTok and platforms such as X, formerly Twitter.

"Terrible situation in #Japan," says one post on X.

The vibrations in Japan -- which some monitors reported measured 7.6 in magnitude -- triggered tsunami waves at least four feet (1.2 meters) high, sparked a major fire and tore apart roads. But the footage circulating online is unrelated to the quake.

Reverse image searches reveal the clips instead correspond to a rogue wave that jumped a sea wall in Ventura, California on December 28, 2023, injuring eight people who were caught in the floodwaters. The waves were generated by a storm that brought heavy rain to the western United States.

Beaches throughout Ventura County, located northwest of Los Angeles, were closed due to dangerous surf conditions.

Witness Colin Hoag, who was on a morning run, filmed one of the videos featured in the montage circulating online (archived here). The Ventura County Police Department captured the second clip (archived here).

Andy VanSciver, the Ventura County Fire Department's public information officer, confirmed to AFP that the social media posts show the December 28 incident.

The wave flooded roadways and damaged shoreline homes. An evacuation warning was issued December 30 and later lifted, according to the department (archived here and here). 

AFP geolocated the footage to South Seaward Avenue near the Inn on the Beach Hotel (archived here).

Screenshots from TikTok taken January 2, 2024, with elements outlined by AFP
Screenshot from Google Maps Street View taken January 2, 2024, with elements outlined by AFP

AFP journalists also captured footage and photos of damage in the area.

People look at damage along the coast at Marina Park Beach on December 29, 2023 in Ventura, California (AFP / Robyn BECK)

John Dumas, science and operations officer for the National Weather Service (NWS) in Los Angeles, told AFP there were "no similar waves due to the earthquake in Japan."

A separate 4.1-magnitude earthquake did strike the Los Angeles region, where such vibrations are common, on January 1, 2024.

But there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage -- and the NWS in Los Angeles said January 1 on X that there was "NO tsunami threat for the #WestCoast of the United States" (archived here).

AFP has debunked other misinformation about the 2024 Japan quake here.

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