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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tsunami reaches Japanese coast

Tsunami reaches Japanese coast

A fisherman at Shizugawa in Miyagi prefecture north-east of Tokyo, Japan
Fishing ports in north-east Japan shut ahead of possible tsunami waves
A tsunami more than one metre (3 feet) high has hit Japan's northern Pacific coast, nearly 24 hours after the powerful earthquake in Chile.
Thousands of people were earlier told to leave coastal areas after predictions bigger waves could strike.
Other Pacific nations were hit by tsunamis, but the danger is now thought to have passed.
In Chile, the town of Talcahuano was badly damaged while five people were killed on the Juan Fernandez islands.
Fishing boats there were thrown out of the water in Talcahuano, and port facilities were damaged by a wave that US scientists said was 2.34m high.
The town lies about 115km (70 miles) south-west of the epicentre of Saturday's powerful earthquake.
Large waves struck Chile's Juan Fernandez island group, reaching halfway into one inhabited area and killing five people. Several more are missing.
Two aid ships are reported to be on their way.
Well prepared
Warning systems across the Pacific have improved since the 2004 Indonesia quake sparked a tsunami that killed nearly 250,000 people.
Nations and regions affected by the Pacific "Ring of Fire" all sounded alerts, trying to estimate the anticipated time of arrival of any tsunami following the earthquake, which struck on Saturday at 0634 GMT.
Residents of Tandag in the south-eastern Philippines at an emergency shelter - 28 February 2010
Residents of south-eastern Philippines took shelter after warnings
The first tsunami waves to reach Japan were reported to be just 10cm high, with a wave of 90cm following.
Officials later lifted a tsunami warning for Japan's coast, the first issued in more than 15 years.
The BBC's Roland Buerk in Tokyo says Japan has experienced many earthquakes of its own and was well prepared.
People in areas at risk were ordered to move to higher ground, train services running along the coast were suspended and steel gates across fishing harbours were shut.
In 1960 about 140 people were killed by a tsunami in Japan after a major earthquake in Chile.
Thousands of people also left coastal areas of the Philippines after warnings of a possible tsunami were spread by text message.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center had warned of "widespread damage" across the region following Saturday's quake, but later said waves were not as high as predicted.
A geophysicist at the centre, Gerard Fryer, told the BBC that the tsunami's impact was small because the earthquake occurred in shallow water.
The earthquake was "big enough to do significant damage, but not big enough to do anything large in the far field", he said.
'Ordinary stormy day'
Part of the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia were hit by a 4m (13ft) wave, but no casualties were reported.
In Tahiti, the tsunami waves were smaller, causing little damage.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii gathers information
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii was monitoring the waves
New Zealand's Chatham Islands were hit by a wave of 1.5m and areas along the main North and South Islands experienced small surges with no reports of casualties or serious damage.
The tsunami warning has been downgraded there but the emergency management department spokesman said there could still be waves of up to 3m.
Sirens were sounded in Hawaii to alert residents to the tsunami threat several hours before waves were expected.
The first waves hit about 2200 GMT on Saturday, after water began moving away from the shore at Hilo Bay on the Big Island before returning.
But correspondents say that, although 8ft (2.5m) waves had been predicted, the islands experienced nothing noticeably different from an ordinary stormy day.
Hawaiian officials later lifted the tsunami warning.
Despite Australian warnings of "possible dangerous waves, strong ocean currents and foreshore flooding" on the east coast, swimmers and surfers flocked to Sydney's Bondi beach.

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