Tsunami waves from Japan quake hit Oregon coast after sweeping Hawaii
Friday, March 11, 2011; 11:17 AM
HONOLULU -- Tsunami waves swamped Hawaii beaches and brushed the U.S. western coast Friday but didn't immediately cause major damage after devastating Japan and sparking evacuations throughout the Pacific.
Kauai was the first of the Hawaiian islands hit by the tsunami, which was caused by an earthquake in Japan, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said. Water rushed ashore in Honolulu, covering the beach in Waikiki and surging over a break wall in the world-famous resort but stopping short of the area's high-rise hotels.
Waves about 7 feet high were recorded on Maui, and 3 feet in Oahu and Kauai. Officials warned that the waves would continue and could become larger, and a scientist at the tsunami warning center said there was likely some damage to mooring facilities and piers.
"We called this right. This evacuation was necessary," said geophysicist Gerard Fryer in Hawaii. "There's absolutely no question, this was the right thing to do."
Fryer said high water reached Port Orford, Ore., around 11:30 a.m. PST Friday. Evacuations were ordered and beaches closed all along the coast, and fishermen in Crescent City, Calif., fired up their crab boats and left the harbor to ride out an expected swell. A tsunami in 1964 killed 11 people in Crescent City.
In Hawaii, roadways and beaches were empty as the tsunami struck. As sirens sounded throughout the night, most residents cleared out from the coasts and low-lying areas.
"I'm waiting to see if I'll be working and if I can get to work," said Sabrina Skiles, who spent the night at her husband's office in downtown Kahului in Maui. Their home, across the street from the beach, was in a mandatory evacuation zone. "They're saying the worst is over right now but we keep hearing reports saying 'don't go anywhere. You don't want to go too soon.'"
The tsunami, spawned by an 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Japan, slammed the eastern coast of Japan, sweeping away boats, cars, homes and people as widespread fires burned out of control. It raced across the Pacific at 500 mph - as fast as a jetliner - though tsunami waves roll into shore at normal speeds.
President Barack Obama said the Federal Emergency Management Agency is ready to come to the aid of Hawaii and West Coast states as needed. Coast Guard cutter and aircraft crews were positioning themselves to be ready to conduct response and survey missions as soon as conditions allow.
Scientists warned that the first tsunami waves are not always the strongest. The threat can last for several hours and people should watch out for strong currents.
U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Ken Hudnut said residents along the coast should heed calls for evacuation if local emergency planners order them.
"Do the right thing," Hudnut said. "Be safe."