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Tsunami waves reach Japan’s coast

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Sunday, February 28, 2010 0:03 EDT
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“The first tsunami from Chile’s earthquake has hit Japan’s outlying islands, but the initial waves are small,” the Associated Press reports.

The article continues, “Japan’s Meteorological Agency said the first tsunami to reach Japan after the magnitude 8.8 quake off Chile was recorded in the Ogasawara islands early Sunday afternoon. It was just 10 centimeters high. There were no reports of damage.”

Japan and Russia went on alert Sunday, clearing tens of thousands of people out of vulnerable coastal areas as a tsunami triggered by Chile’s massive killer quake powered across the Pacific.

Tsunami warnings were lifted in other nations across the Pacific Basin’s “Ring of Fire” as fears of destructive waves eased, but Tokyo and Moscow were taking no chances after one of the biggest earthquakes on record.

Waves pummelled Chile and rolled through into Hawaii, French Polynesia and the South Pacific as the tsunami moved at jet-speed across the vast ocean after Saturday’s 8.8-magnitude quake, which left at least 300 people dead. Related article: Chile quake kills over 300

Warning sirens wailed as about 50 countries and territories along an arc stretching from New Zealand to Japan were put on alert, five years after the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster that killed more than 220,000 people.

Five people were killed on the remote Robinson Crusoe archipelago far off the coast of Chile, the first reported tsunami casualties, but elsewhere no significant damage was reported and surges of water were smaller than expected.

The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center lifted its tsunami warning for everywhere except Japan and Russia, but the Philippines was also bracing for outsized waves.

Japan warned that waves of up to three metres (10 feet) could hit its northern Pacific coastline, ordering more than 50,000 people living near the shore to leave and closing ports.

The Chilean disaster revived raw memories for Japan, where 140 lives were lost in 1960 when a 9.5-magnitude earthquake in the South American nation — the largest on record — sent a tsunami roaring across the Pacific.

“Last time, waves that hit after the first one became even more powerful,” said Japan Meteorological Agency official Yasuo Sekita.

“We believe it will be the case this time, too,” he said, as Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama set up an emergency task force. “The agency will keep the tsunami alert for quite a long time.”

Russia issued a similar warning and launched an evacuation in its Pacific peninsula of Kamchatka.

“We are expecting waves of up to two metres, which is a dangerous height, and so people are asked to evacuate from dangerous zones,” Sakhalin island’s tsunami centre chief, Tatyana Ivelskaya, said.

Thousands of families in the Philippines also fled coastal areas.

“The most important thing is that for people not to panic. We have prepared all our local government units since last night,” said Albay provincial official Joey Salceda.

The Hawaii center, set up by Pacific governments after the 1960 tsunami, had warned of possible “widespread damage” from waves as high as three metres.

In Hawaii itself, the tsunami led to the evacuation of thousands of people and triggered panic buying of food, water and fuel. But there was little damage in the event.

US President Barack Obama, who was born in Hawaii, had warned that the US western seaboard may see dangerous waves and currents throughout the day.

“In the hours ahead, we’ll continue to take every step possible to prepare our shores and protect our citizens,” he said.

One tsunami measuring nearly 2.5 metres slammed into Talcahuano, one of about 11 coastal towns in Chile pounded by the surge. Trawlers were sent shooting inland to the town square where they lay oddly marooned next to abandoned cars.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced a partial evacuation of Easter Island, but the island of about 4,000 people, known for its monolithic stone statues, received a relatively small onrush of water.

In the island paradise of French Polynesia, schools were closed, the port in Papeete was evacuated and thousands in Tahiti’s hillside areas were taken to safer areas as the waves hit.

Waves up to 1.5 metres rammed New Zealand’s eastern Chatham Islands, while in Australia, the size of the surge dropped to around 40 centimetres although strong currents rolled up the east coast.

In Tonga and the Cook Islands, residents made their way to higher ground, still jittery after a tsunami trashed entire villages in the South Pacific in September, killing more than 180.

Japan and Russia are on the outer edge of the “Ring of Fire”, a belt of seismic fury responsible for most of the world’s tremors and volcanoes.

(with AFP report)

 
 
 
 
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