Pacific-wide tsunami warning lifted

"We expected waves to be 50% bigger in Hawaii. We'll be looking at that."

February 28, 2010 13:22
2 minute read.
Vehicles that were driving along a highway that co

collapsed highway near Santiago. (photo credit: AP)

The tsunami from Chile's deadly earthquake hit Japan's main islands and the shores of Russia on Sunday, but the smaller-than-expected waves prompted the lifting of a Pacific-wide alert. Hawaii and other Pacific islands were also spared.

In Japan, where hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated from shorelines, the biggest wave following the magnitude-8.8 quake off Chile hit the northern island of Hokkaido. There were no immediate reports of damage from the four-foot (1.2-meter) wave, though some piers were briefly flooded.

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As it crossed the Pacific, the tsunami dealt populated areas — including the US state of Hawaii — only a glancing blow.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii issued a warning for 53 nations and territories, but lifted it Sunday, though some countries were keeping their own watches in place as a precaution.

The tsunami raised fears the Pacific could fall victim to the type of devastating waves that killed 230,000 people in the Indian Ocean in 2004 the morning after Christmas. During that disaster, there was little-to-no warning and much confusion about the impending waves.

Officials said the opposite occurred after the Chile quake: They overstated their predictions of the size of the waves and the threat.

"We expected the waves to be bigger in Hawaii, maybe about 50 percent bigger than they actually were," said Gerard Fryer, a geophysicist for the warning center. "We'll be looking at that."

Japan, fearing the tsunami could gain force as it moved closer, put all of its eastern coastline on tsunami alert and ordered hundreds of thousands of residents in low-lying areas to seek higher ground as waves generated by the Chilean earthquake raced across the Pacific at hundreds of miles (kilometers) per hour.

In related news, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor on Sunday morning said that the Israeli Embassy in Santiago did not find any names of Israelis in the lists of of casualties and fatalities released by authorities in Chile. Channel 2 reported that some 20 Israelis currently in Chile had not yet been accounted for after the quake. Chile is a popular travel destination for Israelis traveling after their army service.

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