February 28, 2010

Tsunami Warnings Echoed Across Globe

The first tsunami hit Japan's outlying islands early Sunday after a strong earthquake rocked the South American country of Chile on Saturday morning.

Japan's Meteorological Agency said the first wave was recorded in the Ogasawara islands.  It was only 4 inches high.  Another wave was seen in Hokkaido that was 12 inches high.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center has already lifted its warning for every country but Russia and Japan.  Some countries, including the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand, have kept their own watches in place as a precaution.

Some feared that the earthquake could cause waves similar to those that killed 230,000 people in the Indian Ocean in 2004 the morning after Christmas.  There was little to no warning during that disaster.

Officials said they overstated their predictions for 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."

However, as Japan feared the tsunami could have gained force when it moved closer, the country put all of its eastern coastline on a tsunami alert Sunday and ordered residents in low-lying areas to seek higher ground as waves generated.

Japan is particularly sensitive to the tsunami threat after a tsunami in 1993 killed over 200 people on the island of Okushiri. 

Japan's national broadcaster, NHK, said that towns along northern coasts issued evacuation orders to 400,000 residents.  NHK broadcasted a map with the areas in most danger and repeatedly urged residents to be cautious.

Japan's Meteorological Agency said its tsunami alert applied to its entire Pacific coast as the wave continued its expansion across the ocean.  A wave of up to 9.8 feet was expected to hit the northern prefectures of Aomori, Iwate and Miyagi.

A surfing contest outside San Diego, California went on as planned because the waves barely registered as they hit the coast.

Deputy director Mali'u Takai said that in Tonga, the National Disaster Office reported waves of up to 6.5 feet high.  There were no initial indications of damage.

In the Philippines, Renato Solidum, the chief of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, said villagers living close to the country's eastern coast were advised to move to higher ground.  He said a 3.2 feet high wave 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.

Officials reported a wave at about 6.6 feet on New Zealand's Chatham Islands earlier on Sunday.

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

New Zealand's Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergency Management brought down the national warning to an advisory Sunday afternoon.  In the Cook Islands, police issued an all-clear midmorning Sunday.

The Bureau of Meteorology in Australia reported a tsunami measuring 1.6 feet off Norfolk Island, which is about 1,000 miles northeast of Sydney.  There was no damage reported.


Image Caption: Travel time projection of the 2010 Chile earthquake tsunami; (hour 0=06:34 UTC Feb 27). Credit: NOAA