Small Tsunami Hits Japan; Big Threat Looms

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Updated at 11:59 p.m. ET

The first tsunami from the Chile quake hit Japan's outlying islands on Sunday, but the initial waves were small, though officials warned a bigger surge of water could reach the country's main islands.

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. It was just 4 inches high. There were no reports of damage.

Special Section: Earthquake in Chile

Japan put all of its eastern coastline on tsunami alert Sunday and ordered hundreds of thousands of residents in low-lying areas to seek higher ground as waves generated by an earthquake off Chile raced across the Pacific at hundreds of miles (kilometers) per hour.

It was the first such alert for Japan's coasts in almost 20 years.

Towns along northern coasts issued evacuation orders to hundreds of thousands of residents. Japan's national broadcaster NHK switched to emergency mode, broadcasting a map with the areas in most danger and repeatedly urging caution.

As the wave continued its expansion across the ocean, Japan's Meteorological Agency said its tsunami alert applied to its entire Pacific coast, with the waves expected to be biggest in the north.

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano told a hastily called news conference that the government has set up a crisis control task force to deal with the possible tsunami danger.

"We will do our utmost to minimize the possible tsunami damage," Hirano said.

In Hawaii, after a day of several tide fluctuations, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center lifted a warning threatening the Aloha State.

Towns along northern coasts issued evacuation orders to hundreds of thousands of residents, and authorities urged people close to the shore to head for higher ground.

People packed their families into cars, but there were no reports of panic or traffic jams. Fishermen secured their boats, and police officers patrolled beaches, using sirens and loudspeakers to warn people to leave the area.

Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau said Sunday morning that a tsunami could hit the island's eastern coast. It gave no estimate on wave size but warned the public against going near the sea. The Philippines was also watching for waves.

Earlier Sunday in Tonga, where up to 50,000 people fled inland hours ahead of the tsunami, the National Disaster Office had reports of a wave up to 6.5 feet high hitting a small northern island, deputy director Mali'u Takai said.

"That wave is reported in the Vava'u outer islands," he told The Associated Press, adding that earlier reports were that a nearly 3.5 feet wave had hit the northern group. There were no initial indications of damage.

Nine people died in Tonga last September when the Samoa tsunami slammed the small northern island of Niuatoputapu, wiping out half of the main settlement.

More coverage of the earthquake in Chile

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In Samoa, where 183 people died in the tsunami five months ago, thousands of people Sunday morning remained in the hills above the coasts on the main island of Upolu, but police said there were no reports of waves or sea surges hitting the South Pacific nation.

In Fiji by midmorning Sunday, disaster management office duty officer Anthony Blake said no unusual wave activity had been reported.

"There has been no surges at all," he told AP, but people who evacuated from coastal towns and villages should stay away from beaches for at least more six hours.

Blake said coastal evacuations had taken place on Vanua Levu, Fiji's second biggest island, and in the Lau and Lomaiviti island groups. About a third of Fiji's 800,000 people live in those areas, he said.

Police and emergency services are on alert for waves of between 1.9 and 7.5 feet on the northern and eastern islands of the archipelago.

(NOAA/USGS/AP)


In Japan, a tsunami of up to 9.8 feet was expected to hit the northern prefectures of Aomori, Iwate and Miyagi at about 1:30 p.m. local time (11:30 p.m. Eastern time). Waves of about 3.2 feet were expected in the Tokyo Bay area at about 2:30 p.m. local time, the Meteorological Agency said.

The town of Kamaishi in Iwate prefecture (state), where the major tsunami is expected, issued evacuation orders to its 14,000 coastal residents through its community radio system, urging them to go to designated community centers and other facilities, according to town official Masashi Suenaga.

The issuance of the major tsunami alert is the first for Japan since July 1993, when a tsunami triggered by a major earthquake off Japan's northern coast killed more than 200 people on a small island of Okushiri.

Villagers living close to the Philippines' eastern coast were advised to move to higher ground, said Renato Solidum, the chief of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. He said a wave of about 3.2 feet high could hit early in the afternoon.

"We're not expecting any huge tsunami so we're just urging everybody to take precautions," Solidum told The Associated Press.

On New Zealand's Chatham Islands earlier Sunday, officials reported a wave measured at 6.6 feet.

Oceanographer Ken Gledhill said it was typical tsunami behavior when the sea water dropped a meter off North Island's east coast at Gisborne then surged back.

Several hundred people in the North Island coastal cities of Gisborne and Napier were evacuated from their homes and from camp grounds, while residents in low-lying areas on South Island's Banks Peninsula were alerted to be ready to evacuate.

In the Cook Islands the police issued an all-clear midmorning Sunday after the tsunami caused a minor tidal surge of a few centimeters.

In Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology reported a tsunami measuring 1.6 feet off Norfolk Island, about 1,000 miles northeast of Sydney.

There were no immediate reports of damage and no evacuations were ordered. A tsunami warning remained in effect by late morning Sunday for much of Australia's east coast - from Queensland state in the north to Tasmania in the south.

"Do not go to the coast to watch the tsunami," the Bureau of Meteorology's alert said. "Check that your neighbors have received this advice. Boats in close should return quickly if possible. Boats in deep water should stay offshore until further advised."
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