TOKYO - Japan put all of its eastern coastline on tsunami alert Sunday and ordered hundreds of thousands of residents in
Japan warns of tsunami up to 10 feet along coast
low-lying areas to seek higher ground as waves generated by an earthquake off Chile raced across the Pacific at hundreds of miles
(kilometers) per hour.
Officials warned a ``major'' tsunami of up to 9.8 feet (3 meters) could hit northern coastal areas within the next few hours following the devastating earthquake in Chile. Waves of about that size killed 140 people in Japan after a quake off Chile hit in 1960.
It was the first such alert for Japan's coasts in almost 20 years.
Towns along northern coasts issued evacuation orders to hundreds of thousands of residents. Japan's national broadcaster NHK switched
to emergency mode, broadcasting a map with the areas in most danger and repeatedly urging caution.
The 8.8-magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami that swept across the Pacific on Sunday, but little damage was being reported as nations evacuated their coastlines well in advance of the waves.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center already lifted its warning for every country but Russia and Japan, though some countries in Asia
and the Pacific _ including the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand _ were keeping their own watches in place as a precaution.
As the wave continued its expansion across the ocean, Japan's Meteorological Agency said its tsunami alert applied to its entire Pacific coast, with the waves expected to be biggest in the north.
In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano told a news conference the government has set up a crisis control task force to
deal with the possible tsunami danger.
``We will do our utmost to minimize the possible tsunami damage,'' Hirano said.
Towns along northern coasts issued evacuation orders to hundreds of thousands of residents, and authorities urged people close to the shore to head for higher ground.
People packed their families into cars, but there were no reports of panic or traffic jams. Fishermen secured their boats, and police
officers patrolled beaches, using sirens and loudspeakers to warn people to leave the area.
Earlier Sunday 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 (2 meters) high hitting a small northern island, deputy director Mali'u Takai said. There were no initial
indications of damage.
Nine people died in Tonga last September when the Samoa tsunami slammed the small northern island of Niuatoputapu, wiping out half
of the main settlement.
In Samoa, where 183 people died in the tsunami five months ago, thousands of people Sunday morning remained 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.
In Japan, a tsunami of up to 9.8 feet (3 meters) was expected to hit the northern prefectures of Aomori, Iwate and Miyagi at about
1:30 p.m. local time (0430 GMT).
The town of Kamaishi in Iwate prefecture (state) issued evacuation orders to its 14,000 coastal residents through its community radio system, urging them to go to designated community centers and other facilities, according to town official Masashi Suenaga.
It was the first major tsunami alert for Japan since July 1993, when a tsunami triggered by a major earthquake off Japan's northern
coast killed more than 200 people on a small island of Okushiri.
Yoshinobu Tsuji, a tsunami expert at University of Tokyo, warned that once a tsunami strikes, it could stay nearly half an hour like
a flash flood, because it is triggered by the quake's center with a broad width of about 370 miles (600 kilometers).
``Once a tsunami hits, waves would stay for 20-30 minutes.
It would take a long time before it subsides,'' he told NHK. He said it would be safe to stay at least on the third floor or higher, or 15 feet (5 meters) above ground.
Villagers living close to the Philippines' eastern coast were advised to move to higher ground, said Renato Solidum, the chief of
the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. He said a wave of about 3.2 feet (1 meter) high could hit early in the
``We're not expecting any huge tsunami so we're just urging everybody to take precautions,'' Solidum told The Associated Press.
On New Zealand's Chatham Islands earlier Sunday, officials reported a wave measured at 6.6 feet (2 meters).
Oceanographer Ken Gledhill said it was typical tsunami behavior when the sea water dropped a meter off North Island's east coast at Gisborne then surged back.
Several hundred people in the North Island coastal cities of Gisborne and Napier were evacuated from their homes and from camp
grounds, while residents in low-lying areas on South Island's Banks Peninsula were alerted to be ready to evacuate.
New Zealand's Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management downgraded the national warning to an advisory Sunday afternoon.
In the Cook Islands the police issued an all-clear midmorning Sunday after the tsunami caused a minor tidal surge of a few
In Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology reported a tsunami measuring 1.6 feet (0.5 meters) off Norfolk Island, about 1,000
miles (1,600 kilometers) northeast of Sydney. There were no immediate reports of damage and no evacuations were ordered.
But the warning for much of the nation's east coast remained in effect Sunday afternoon, and was expected to stay in place the rest
of the day. The bureau warned of the possibility of dangerous waves, strong ocean currents and foreshore flooding. [AP]