Hawaii es­capes tsunami dam­age

The Kansas City Star (Sunday) - - FROM THE COVER | - By JAYMES SONG and AU­DREY McAVOY

Surge of wa­ter raced across Pa­cific, but U.S. is­lands had warn­ing and the ef­fect was mi­nor.

With a rapt world watch­ing the drama un­fold on live tele­vi­sion, a tsunami raced Satur­day across a quar­ter of the globe.

The prospect of large waves set off fears of a re­peat of the car­nage that caught the world off guard in Asia in 2004.

Ja­pan was brac­ing late Satur­day, but the tsunami de­liv­ered noth­ing more than a glanc­ing blow to the U.S. and South Pa­cific.

The tsunami was spawned by a fe­ro­cious mag­ni­tude-8.8 earth­quake in Chile that sent waves bar­rel­ing north across the Pa­cific at the speed of a jet­liner. But Pa­cific is­lands had am­ple time to pre­pare for the tsunami be­cause the quake struck sev­eral thou­sand miles away.

By the time the tsunami reached Hawaii — a full 16 hours af­ter the quake — of­fi­cials had spent the morn­ing ring­ing emer­gency sirens, blar­ing warn­ings from air­planes and or­der­ing res­i­dents to higher ground. The tsunami caused no real dam­age in Hawaii, and the is­lands were back to par­adise by the af­ter­noon.

The surge of wa­ter raced across the Pa­cific, set­ting off alarm sirens in Hawaii, Poly­ne­sia and Tonga and prompt­ing warn­ings across all 53 na­tions ring­ing the vast ocean. But there were no im­me­di­ate re­ports of wide­spread dam­age, in­juries or deaths in the U.S. or in the Pa­cific is­lands.

How­ever, the jolt set off a tsunami that swamped a vil­lage on Robin­son Cru­soe Is­land off Chile, killing at least five peo­ple and leav­ing 11 miss­ing. The huge waves also dam­aged sev­eral gov­ern­ment build­ings on the is­land.

Pe­dro Forteza, a pi­lot who fre­quently flies to the is­land, said, “The vil­lage was de­stroyed by the waves, in­clud­ing the his­toric ceme­tery. I would say that 20 or 30 per­cent has dis­ap­peared.”

Waves reached Cal­i­for­nia, but barely reg­is­tered amid stormy weather. De­spite re­ports of sig­nif­i­cant prob­lems in coastal ar­eas of Cal­i­for­nia, no in­juries or ma­jor prop­erty dam­age occurred.

It was pos­si­ble that the tsunami would gain strength again as it heads to Ja­pan, and nearly 50 coun­tries and is­land chains re­mained un­der tsunami warn­ings from Antarc­tica to Rus­sia. But sci­en­tists said the worst threat had passed.

“We dodged a bul­let,” said Ger­ard Fryer, a geo­physi­cist for the Pa­cific Tsunami Warn­ing Cen­ter in Hawaii.

The tsunami raised fears that the Pa­cific could fall vic­tim to the type of killer 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.

Of­fi­cials said the op­po­site occurred af­ter the Chile quake: They were off in 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,” Fryer said. “We’ll be looking at that.”

In the hours be­fore the tsunami, boats and peo­ple near the coast in Hawaii were evac­u­ated. Nor­mally bustling beaches were empty. Hilo In­ter­na­tional Air­port, lo­cated along the coast, was closed. Res­i­dents lined up at su­per­mar­kets to stock up on food and at gas sta­tions.

The Navy moved more than a half dozen ves­sels to try to avoid dam­age from the tsunami. A frigate, three de­stroy­ers and two smaller ves­sels were be­ing sent out of Pearl Har­bor and a cruiser out of Naval Base San Diego.

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