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Tsunami hits Pacific regions after Chile quake

Tokyo, February 28, 2010

Tsunami waves of up to 1.5 metres (5 ft) hit far-flung Pacific regions from the Russian far east and Japan to New Zealand's remote Chatham Islands on Sunday after a massive earthquake struck Chile, killing more than 300 people.

Authorities ordered hundreds of thousands of residents in Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines and Russia's Kamchatka to evacuate after Saturday's Chile quake, one of the world's most powerful in a century, but there were no immediate reports of damage.

In Japan, a 1.45 metre tsunami hit the fishing port of Otsuchi on the north Pacific coast, Kyodo news agency said.

Smaller waves hit a swathe of the country from the small island of Minamitori 1,950 km (1,200 miles) south of Tokyo to Hokkaido island in the north, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

Japanese officials have ordered or advised some 540,000 households along the country's Pacific coast to evacuate and said later waves could be much bigger.

'The full-fledged tsunami waves are starting to arrive,' University of Tokyo professor Yoshinobu Tsuji told NHK public TV.

'This is not the last one,' he said.

It was Japan's first major tsunami warning in 17 years and only the fourth since 1952, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

'Carelessness could be the biggest enemy. In the past, even if the waves were not so big, there has been great damage with 2-metre high tsunami,' Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama told reporters.

Train services were halted in many areas along the Pacific coast and some highways were closed.

Police cars and fire trucks patrolled coastal roads and fishing boats, seeking to avoid any tsunami, headed out to sea under gray skies, with snow flurries in some areas.

The area that could be hit hardest, where around 140 people died in a previous tsunami 50 years ago, has many small harbours that could concentrate the force of a tsunami.

'The waves could climb up the land, so for real safety you should evacuate to a place several times higher than the predicted height of the waves,' JMA official Yasuo Sekita told a news conference.

The agency said the first wave might not be the biggest and that the warning could remain in effect for a long time.

No stranger to tsunamis

TV footage showed elderly women with cloth-wrapped bundles on their backs gathering at evacuation centres as cars pulled up and other women unloaded shopping bags filled with belongings.

The tsunami warning covered the eastern seaboard of Japan, although for Tokyo Bay and many other areas the warnings were for waves of only around one metre (3 ft).

The area is no stranger to tsunamis.

In 1896, a magnitude 8.5 earthquake and tsunami left more than 22,000 dead in northeastern Japan. Another of magnitude 8.1 hit the same region in 1933, killing 3,064.
In May 1960, a tsunami struck the coasts of Hokkaido and other northern Pacific coastal areas after an earthquake in Chile, killing around 140 people.

Since then, many harbours have had sea gates installed to try to protect from tsunami and storms.

'Coastal barriers have been built since the 1960 tsunami so we can't simply compare the situation with that time but it is still crucial that people evacuate,' said Masaaki Kubo of the Kamaishi Eastern Fishery Union in Iwate, in northern Honshu.

The first waves to hit New Zealand were reported at the remote Chatham Islands, around 800 kilometres (500 miles) east of New Zealand, with surges of up to 1.5 metres measured, the Civil Defence Ministry said.

A resident on one of the smaller islands in the group, Pitt, said the surges were continuing and getting bigger.

'The bay empties right out. It takes about a minute and a half and then it surges back in, in about the same amount of time,' Bernadette Malinson told Radio New Zealand.

'The surges have been getting bigger -- at least 2 metres at present.'

Authorities in Russia's far eastern Kamchatka region lifted a tsunami alert after a series of small waves appeared to cause no damage, a spokeswoman for the Emergencies Ministry said.

A tsunami hit beaches in eastern Australian but there were not initial reports of damage.

Australia issued a tsunami alert for most of its east coast and eastern parts of the island state of Tasmania, but authorities said there were no concerns about major innundation.

Hawaii dodged serious damage on Saturday when a tsunami merely lapped ashore, although residents were warned to stay away from coastal areas because the ocean could remain unsettled for several more hours. – Reuters




Tags: Japan | tsunami | Chile | Tokyo | Pacific | Hawaii |

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