Widespread tsunami warning issued after Japan quake

Some California residents evacuated; Pacific basin countries issue warnings; Hawaii orders all coastal areas evacuated, tsunami expected.

March 11, 2011 15:05
4 minute read.
A seismological graph of Japan's earthquake.

japan earthquake graph_311 reuters. (photo credit: Fabrizio Bensch / Reuters)

OAKLAND - Residents in parts of northern California evacuated their homes on Friday as a tsunami triggered by the massive earthquake in Japan bore down on the US and Canadian west coast.

The tsunami could reach 6 feet (2 meters) when it hits parts of the northern California coast, a state emergency agency spokesman said.

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Authorities in Oregon advised coastal residents to evacuate and schools were to be closed along the coast.

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Canada issued tsunami advisories for parts of British Columbia. The government said it believed a low-level tsunami had been generated that could affect buildings on the coast or create strong currents in harbors and isolated coastal areas. Local governments were advised to immediately evacuate marinas, beaches and other areas below the normal high tide mark.

The massive 8.9 magnitude quake in Japan triggered tsunami warnings for most of the Pacific basin. Advisories or warnings were in effect from Canada all the way down the Pacific coast of South America.

In Hawaii, the first tsunami waves steadily rose over southern beaches on the island of Oahu, but there were no initial reports of damage.

In California, people evacuated parts of the north of the state most likely to be hit by big waves.

"There are some evacuations going on in Del Norte and San Mateo," counties, said Jordan Scott, a spokesman for the California Emergency Management Agency. He did not have details of how many people were leaving their homes

Del Norte is the northernmost California coastal county, while San Mateo is the county just south of San Francisco that includes much of Silicon Valley. However, the technology center is well inland.

Sirens blare in Hawaii

In Hawaii, some 3,800 miles (6,200 km) from Japan, the main airports on at least three of the major islands -- Maui, Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii -- were shut down as a precaution, and the US Navy ordered all warships in Pearl Harbor to remain in port to support rescue missions as needed.

Civil defense officials ordered all Hawaiian coastal areas evacuated by 2 a.m. local time, about 90 minutes before the first wave reached the islands at about 8:30 a.m. EST/1330 GMT.

The Hawaii evacuation zone included the famous Waikiki Beach, the main hotel and tourist hub in Honolulu on the island of Oahu.

Authorities also ordered evacuations from low-lying areas on the U.S. island territory of Guam in the western Pacific, but the tsunami warning there was lifted several hours later and roads there were reopened.

US President Barack Obama, a native of Hawaii, was notified of the massive Japanese quake at 4 a.m. EST and instructed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be prepared to affected US states and territories, the White House said.

Alert issued for Chile residents

On Easter Island, a Chilean territory in the South Pacific, authorities planned to move residents to higher ground, in preparation for a possible tsunami on Friday afternoon.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, whose country was hit by a devastating 8.8 magnitude quake and ensuing tsunamis that killed more than 500 people a year ago, called on Chileans to remain alert, but to continue with their daily routines.

Peruvian officials said they were waiting until late afternoon to decide if they would order evacuations from low-lying coastal areas such as the port city of Callao.

Any tsunami waves were forecast to first hit Peru in the northern city of Tumbes, near the border with Ecuador, around 5:30 pm local time, and arrive in Lima two hours later. Any evacuations would be ordered about two hours before the arrival of the waves, officials said.

At the popular Punta Roquitas surfbreak in Peru's capital of Lima, Gabriel Aramburu, 32, a professional surfer, was one of a dozen people suiting up for a morning session.

"For there to be a tsunami the sea water has to suck out and pull back first. If that happens, we'll paddle into shore and leave," he said.

In the Mexican city of Mazatlan, in the northwestern state of Sinaloa, shops were shutting in the central business district and the coastal road was closed to cars ahead of the expected arrival of waves up to 9 feet (3 meters) high around 1900 GMT. Some coastal communities were being evacuated.

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