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Some Northern California residents evacuated in advance of tsunami

By Reuters
Friday, March 11, 2011 10:57 EDT
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OAKLAND, California (Reuters) – 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 U.S. and Canadian west coast.

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

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

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 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 U.S. 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.

Civil defense sirens blared statewide, starting shortly before 10 p.m. local time, and police with bullhorns urged residents near shore to higher ground. Authorities also walked the beaches to awaken homeless people.

Lines for gasoline stretched for blocks, and people rushed to stores to stock up on emergency supplies and water. Downtown Honolulu and Waikiki were packed with motorists trying to leave for higher ground and for shelters set up by the state.

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.

President Barack Obama, a native of Hawaii, was notified of the massive Japanese quake at 4 a.m./0900 GMT and instructed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be prepared to affected U.S. states and territories, the White House said.

The quake off Japan’s northeast coast was the biggest in 140 years and triggered tsunami waves of up to 30 feet that swept across farmland, carrying away homes, crops, vehicles and triggering fires.

CHILE RESIDENTS ALERT

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 (2230 GMT), 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 high around 1900 GMT. Some coastal communities were being evacuated.

(Additional reporting by Suzanne Roig and Jorene Barut in Honolulu, Peter Henderson in San Francisco and Simon Gardner in Santiago; writing by Steve Gorman and Frances Kerry; editing by Anthony Boadle)

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