By Eric Talmadge
The Associated Press
TOKYO (AP) — The tsunami from the deadly earthquake in Chile hit Japan’s main islands and even reached the shores of Russia last Sunday, but the smaller-than-expected waves didn’t cause significant damage.
Hawaii and other Pacific islands in their path were also spared.
In Japan, where hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated from shorelines, the biggest wave following the magnitude-8.8 quake off Chile hit the northern island of Hokkaido. It was four feet high. There were no immediate reports of damage, though some piers were briefly flooded.
Japanese weather agency officials kept their alert up well into Sunday evening, saying further waves could be on their way.
As the waves crossed the Pacific, they dealt populated areas — including Hawaii — just glancing blows.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center lifted its warning for every country but Russia and Japan, though some countries in Asia and the Pacific were keeping their own watches in place as a precaution.
The tsunami raised fears the Pacific could fall victim to the type of devastating waves that killed 230,000 people in the Indian Ocean in 2004 the morning after Christmas. During that disaster, there was little-to-no warning and much confusion about the impending waves.
The opposite occurred after the Chile quake: They overstated their predictions of 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.”
Japan, fearing the tsunami could gain force as it moved closer, put all of its eastern coastline on tsunami alert and ordered hundreds of thousands of residents in low-lying areas to seek higher ground as waves generated by the Chilean earthquake raced across the Pacific at hundreds of miles per hour.
Japan is particularly sensitive to the tsunami threat.
In July 1993, a tsunami triggered by a major earthquake off Japan’s northern coast killed more than 200 people on the small island of Okushiri. A stronger quake near Chile in 1960 created a tsunami that killed about 140 people in Japan.
Towns along northern coasts issued evacuation orders to 400,000 residents, Japanese public broadcaster NHK said. NHK switched to emergency mode, broadcasting a map with the areas in most danger and repeatedly urging caution.
As the wave continued its expansion across the ocean, Japan’s Meteorological Agency said waves of up to 10 feet could hit the northern prefectures of Aomori, Iwate, and Miyagi, but the first waves were much smaller.
People packed their families into cars, but there were no reports of panic or traffic jams. Fishermen secured their boats, and police patrolled beaches, using sirens and loudspeakers to warn people to leave the area.
Elsewhere, the tsunami passed gently.
By the time the tsunami hit Hawaii — 16 hours after the quake — officials had already spent the morning blasting emergency sirens, blaring warnings from airplanes, and ordering residents to higher ground.
The islands were back to paradise by the afternoon, but residents endured a severe disruption and scare earlier in the day. Picturesque beaches were desolate, million-dollar homes were evacuated, shops in Waikiki were shut down, and residents lined up at supermarkets to stock up on food.
Waves hit California, but barely registered amid stormy weather. A surfing contest outside San Diego went on as planned.
In Tonga, where up to 50,000 people fled inland hours ahead of the tsunami, the National Disaster Office had reports of a wave up to 6.5 feet high hitting a small northern island, deputy director Mali’u Takai said.
There were no initial indications of damage.
In Samoa, where 183 people died in the tsunami five months ago, thousands remained Sunday morning in the hills above the coasts on the main island of Upolu, but police said there were no reports of waves or sea surges hitting the South Pacific nation.
At least 20,000 people abandoned their homes in southeastern Philippine villages and took shelter in government buildings or fled to nearby mountains overnight due to the tsunami scare. Provincial officials scrambled to alert villagers and prepare contingency plans, according to the National Disaster Coordinating Council.
Philippine navy and coast guard vessels, along with the police, were ordered to stand by for possible evacuation but the alert was lifted late Sunday afternoon.
Indonesia’s Meteorology and Geophysics Agency said there was no tsunami risk for the archipelago as it was too far from the quake’s epicenter. ♦