|Tsunami Warning! Beware...|
Need to prepare from now!
TOKYO — Nearly a half million people in Japan were ordered to higher ground on Sunday, as coastal areas across the vast Pacific region braced for lethal tsunami waves. But only small waves appeared, and there were no reports of damage.
Areas ranging from Sydney, Australia, to the Russian Far East to the Hawaiian islands conducted evacuations and warned residents to be on the lookout for large waves following the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that devastated parts of Chile on Saturday. The Asia-Pacific region waited in suspense for almost 24 hours, the time that scientists predicted it would take shock waves from the powerful earthquake to race across the ocean in the form of massive waves.
But the predicted time of impact came and went, with waves of only about four inches reported near Tokyo and of up to about three feet farther north along the Japanese coast. The same was true across the region, where officials breathed an almost audible sigh of relief.
“Luckily, these waves are far smaller than the agency’s forecast,” said Kazuaki Ito, director of the Information Institute of Disaster Prevention, a Tokyo-based nonprofit group that advises on natural disasters.
The tsunami warning was lifted in Hawaii late Saturday after waves of about five feet were sighted, without any apparent damage. Beaches were briefly cleared of swimmers, and tourists were sent to upper floors of hotels. But nations farther west left their alerts in place for much of Sunday, even after waves proved small, in case of additional tsunamis triggered by the huge Chilean quake.
Nations took the warning seriously in a region where raw memories remain of the deadly December 2004 tsunami in the neighboring Indian Ocean that killed nearly 230,000 people in 14 countries.
Some of the biggest preparations were taken by Japan, where meteorological agency officials issued the nation’s first major tsunami warning in 17 years. They initially said they expected walls of water up to nine feet high.
In Tokyo, train lines and highways in densely populated areas along the edge of Tokyo Bay were stopped for hours. Farther north, officials said they ordered the evacuation of some 570,000 households from coastal areas mostly on the main Japanese island of Honshu, an area that has seen killer tsunamis in the past.
Television news programs showed elderly residents in Iwate prefecture sitting on blankets in school gyms that had been turned into makeshift shelters. In the hilly port city of Hakodate, on the northernmost island of Hokkaido, residents sat on hilltops for hours on Sunday watching the sea.
One television program showed fishermen in the northern prefecture of Iwate wrapping their nets into tidy piles ahead of the wave’s expected arrival.
The prime minister’s office, which began preparing an emergency response early Sunday morning, said there were no reports of damage, but said it remained on standby just in case.
“We are preparing to respond to requests for emergency supplies at any time,” Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama told reporters.
In the Philippines, officials advised coastal residents to move inland and told boats to return to shore as the nation braced for waves of at least three feet. Vessels that were farther out to sea were advised to stay in deeper waters, where passing tsunamis only raise water levels by a few inches. The waves do not build to more destructive heights until they reach shallower waters.
Bellaflor Angara Castillo, governor of the northern province of Aurora, said in a radio interview early Sunday that mayors in her province had readied evacuation centers and positioned vehicles to aid in relocating residents.
“We cannot lower our guard,” Renato Solidum, director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Saturday. He said an earthquake in Chile in 1960 sent 20-foot tsunamis to the Philippines within 24 hours.
In Russia, dozens of people were told to leave their homes for higher ground in the Kuril islands, a remote chain stretching north from Japan. Seismologists in the Sakhalin Tsunami Center had initially said they expected waves of up to 6.5 feet, but the highest reported swells were only about 2.6 feet, according to Reuters.
Sydney’s Manly Beach was briefly evacuated Sunday morning, but hundreds of local residents showed up anyway to watch for waves. Dozens of surfers defied the warnings by paddling out in hopes of riding one of the tsunamis, if they came. After a few slightly large waves came ashore, everything soon resumed to normal.
In Japan, it was only the fourth time in 52 years that the national meteorological agency issued a warning for a major tsunami, extending along the nation’s Pacific coast from the northern island of Hokkaido as far south as parts of Tokyo.
Japan has a long history of such waves — the word tsunami itself is Japanese — and the nation has extensive defenses in coastal areas, including concrete sea walls and fortified towers where fleeing residents can stay safe above the angry waters.