Tsunami warning issued in Hawaii

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2011 9:48 AM
Tsunami warning issued in Hawaii

By Suzanne Roig and Jorene Barut

HONOLULU (Reuters) - A tsunami warning was issued late on Thursday for Hawaii after an 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck in the Pacific near Japan, prompting state civil defense officials to order all coastal areas evacuated by 2 a.m. local time.

The warning from the U.S. Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu said that all islands in the Hawaiian chain were in the path of potential damage from a tsunami.

The tsunami warning was extended to the entire Pacific basin, except for the U.S. mainland and Canada. Officials on the U.S. island territory of Guam in the western Pacific ordered evacuations of low-lying areas.

Residents there were urged to move at least 50 feet above sea level and 100 feet inland.

The quake off Japan's northeast coast was the biggest in 140 years and triggered tsunami waves of up to 33 feet that swept across farmland, carrying away homes, crops and vehicles and triggering fires.

The government advisory put the estimated arrival time in Hawaii of a first tsunami wave at 3 a.m. local time.

Civil defense sirens blared statewide shortly before 10 p.m. local time to alert residents.

"Each individual wave crest can last five to 15 minutes or more and extensively flood coastal areas," the advisory statement warned. "The danger can continue for many hours after the initial wave as subsequent waves arrive."

The statement also said that debris carried by a tsunami could amplify its destructive force, said it warned that "urgent action should be taken to protect lives and property."

The state civil defense agency ordered all coastal areas for the entire state evacuated no later than 2 a.m. local time. The evacuation zone includes the famous Waikiki Beach, the main hotel and tourist hub in Honolulu on the island of Oahu, and traffic in the area soon grew heavy.

Lines of cars began to form at gasoline service stations on Oahu as motorists gassed up their vehicles.

In the town of Kailua, police with bullhorns were urging people to higher ground.

State Transportation Department spokesman Dan Meisenzahl told Reuters that the airport on Hilo, the main town on the Big island of Hawaii, had been closed.

Emergency management officials also urged residents to remain at least 100 feet away from inland waterways and marinas linked to the ocean and to move vessels to deeper water.

Residents and tourists were advised that high-rise steel and reinforced-concrete buildings provide increased protection on or above the third floor.

Ocean waves up to 2 meters (6.6 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.

"What would be small for a surf wave can flood the coastline," he told Reuters.

The island of Kauai is expected to be first hit because the tsunami was advancing from the west and would likely take 20 to 30 minutes to cross the entire state, McCreary said.

(Writing by Steve Gorman; Additional reporting by Peter Henderson; Editing by Peter Bohan)