Widespread tsunami warning issued after Japan quake

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 22, 2011 11:16 AM
Widespread tsunami warning issued after Japan quake

By Andrew Marshall

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Tsunami warnings have been lifted for some densely populated Asia Pacific countries previously thought to be at risk after a huge earthquake that hit Japan on Friday, the U.S. Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) and national officials said.

But video showed the first signs of a tsunami appearing on beaches in Hawaii.

Earlier, the center issued a warning for the entire Pacific basin except mainland United States and Canada, and including Hawaii and extends from Mexico down to South American countries on the Pacific.

Australia and New Zealand, which had been on an initial warning list, were later removed. The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Center confirmed there was no tsunami threat.

Indonesia's meteorological agency said its tsunami alert had been lifted, following Taiwan, which lifted its alert after evacuating its thinly populated east coast earlier on Friday.

Taiwan's central weather bureau said it expected waves of only 10 cm high to strike, smaller than the 50 cm previously forecast.

By 1320 GMT, the PTWC had lifted its warning for Guam, the U.S. Pacific territory's government said in a statement.

The tsunami was expected to head toward the Americas, where PTWC warnings were in effect for countries including Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru, as well as Russia, Fiji, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

Hawaii's civil defense agency ordered all coastal areas, including the main tourist hub Honolulu, evacuated by 2 a.m. local time (1200 GMT). The first tsunami wave was expected to reach Hawaii at 3 a.m. local time.

Residents of Pacific islands including the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Guam, and the Marshall Islands, were braced for waves to strike.

Hundreds of people in coastal areas in three northern Philippine provinces started moving to higher ground after the government upgraded its tsunami alert, though there was no official evacuation order.

Ocean waves up to 6 feet above normal sea level were detected by deep-ocean gauges near Wake island, Midway and Guam in the North Pacific, said Chip McCreary, a spokesman for the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

Waves may reach Papua New Guinea between 9 a.m. and 2 a.m. local time overnight, said Rabi Gaudo, a UN official seconded to Papua New Guinea's National Disaster Center, but it was unclear yet how high they would be.

Earlier on Friday, the Red Cross in Geneva said the tsunami was higher than some of the Pacific islands it could wash over, warning that developing countries in the Asia Pacific region were particularly vulnerable to tsunami damage.

The biggest earthquake to hit Japan in 140 years struck the northeast coast on Friday, triggering a 10-meter tsunami that swept away everything in its path, including houses and cars. At least 59 people were killed in the quake and tsunami, broadcaster NHK said.

By 1230 GMT there had been no reports of a serious tsunami hitting anywhere beyond Japan.

(Additional reporting by Reporting by Maureen Maratita in Guam, Rebekah Kebede and Chris McCall in Perth, Olivia Rondonuwu and Alfian in Jakarta, Manny Mogato in Manila, Mark Bendeich in Sydney and Faith Hung in Taipei; Writing by Daniel Magnowski; Editing by Miral Fahmy and Tomasz Janowski)