A powerful earthquake could trigger a catastrophic wave of destructive tsunamis across the globe as much as two feet high and wipe out most coastal cities, according to a study published Thursday.
The study, published in the journal Science Advances, found that the quake could wipe out much of the coastal cities in the Americas, the Pacific Rim, the Caribbean, Australia and the Mediterranean Sea, as well as parts of Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean.
“The magnitude of the earthquake that struck the Pacific rim and Asia in April 2017 is enough to trigger a tsunami that would reach the equator and devastate coastal cities across the world,” the study said.
“We have the potential to be a global megathrust event.”
The study did not include a timeline for the disaster.
It warned that a strong quake could result in the deaths of tens of thousands of people, destruction to billions of dollars and untold suffering.
The United States has already been hit by multiple earthquakes since 2011, and the threat is growing.
A magnitude 6.1 earthquake in March that hit the New Mexico city of Alamogordo left at least 30 dead and about 1,100 injured, according, according the U.S. Geological Survey.
The magnitude 7.8 earthquake in August that struck Mexico killed at least 646 people, and an 8.1 magnitude earthquake in November that struck Texas killed more than 4,000 people.
Experts warn that the risk is so great that governments have been urging the public to prepare for the worst.
The U.N. has urged all people in the United States and Mexico to stay indoors, with the U,S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending residents avoid outdoor activities.
The U.K. government has also urged people to take steps to protect themselves, with Prime Minister Theresa May telling her constituents: “I am very worried.
I am worried that there is a very, very, highly dangerous possibility that you could be seriously injured or killed.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has also issued a tsunami warning.
The agency said the tsunami could occur within an hour of the quake, but it warned people to avoid swimming, sailing or boating.
“People are getting prepared,” said Mark Filippenko, a professor of geophysics at Harvard University.
“But it’s just as likely that it could happen within minutes, if not minutes, and that will be the most important thing we’re saying to people to be aware of.”