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Published: Sunday, 2/28/2010

Hawaii dodges tsunami's wrath

FROM THE BLADE'S NEWS SERVICES

HONOLULU - A tsunami triggered by the Chilean earthquake sent a surge of water ashore in Hawaii, California, and islands in the South Pacific yesterday as the waves continued toward Alaska and parts of Asia.

There were no reports of widespread damage, injuries, or deaths in the United States or in the Pacific islands.

In Hawaii, the tsunami caused a series of surges that were about 20 minutes apart and the waves arrived later and smaller than originally predicted.

The highest wave at Hilo measured 5.5 feet high, while Maui saw some as high as 6.5 feet.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center canceled its tsunami warning for Hawaii.

"We dodged a bullet," said Gerard

Fryer, a geophysicist for the warning center.

But Japan was bracing for a direct hit and waves up to 10 feet high.

Scientists worried the giant wave could gain strength as it rounds the planet and consolidates.

"The height of the tsunami could be twice what is expected, depending on factors such as the shape of the coasts. Also, the second tsunami and ones afterward could be bigger," broadcaster NHK's Web site quoted JMA official Yasuo Sekita as saying.

The tsunami was spawned by a magnitude-8.8 earthquake in Chile that sent waves barreling across the Pacific at the speed of a jetliner.

Pacific islands had ample time to prepare because the quake struck several thousand miles away.

By the time the tsunami hit Hawaii - 16 hours after the quake - officials had spent the morning ringing 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 earlier in the day: Picturesque beaches were desolate, million-dollar homes were evacuated, shops in Waikiki were shut down, and residents lined up at stores to stock up on food and at gas stations.

Before the tsunami, the U.S. Navy pulled six ships out of Pearl Harbor, U.S. Pacific Fleet headquarters.

Lt. Nathan Christensen, a Navy spokesman, said another warship was moved out of the naval base in San Diego as a precaution.

Waves did hit California, but they barely registered. A surfing contest outside San Diego went on as planned.

Despite Internet rumors of significant problems in coastal areas of California, no injuries or major property damage occurred.

It was still possible the tsunami would gain strength again as it headed toward Japan.

Nearly 50 countries and island chains remained under tsunami warnings from Antarctica to Russia.

The tsunami raised fears the Pacific could fall victim to the waves that killed 230,000 in the Indian Ocean the morning after Christmas, 2004. Then, there was little to no warning and much confusion about the impending waves.

Officials said the opposite occurred after the Chile quake: They overstated their predictions for 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," Mr. Fryer said. "We'll be looking at that."

Hawaii had originally prepared to bear the brunt of the damage, but the tsunami was smaller than anticipated.

"We've checked with each county. There was no assessment of any damage in any county, which was quite remarkable," Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle said. "It's just wonderful that nothing happened and no one was hurt or injured."

Officials in Tonga and the Samoas evacuated coastal residents and used radio, television, and mobile phone text messages to alert residents.

Sea surges hit 6.5 feet at several places in New Zealand.

Australia warned of the possibility of dangerous waves, strong ocean currents, and flooding from Queensland state in the north to Tasmania in the south. No evacuations were ordered.



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