Quake-triggered tsunami waves hit Japan without causing much damage

09:48, March 01, 2010      

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The first waves of the tsunami triggered by the powerful earthquake in Chile hit disaster-prone Japan and flooded ports Sunday, but they were smaller and less disastrous than predicted.

As the first waves waned in most coastal areas, the Japanese weather agency downgraded tsunami alert from a rare "major" to normal level for the northeastern region at about 7 p.m. Sunday, relieving most of the fears, the public broadcaster NHK said.

The waves first hit a small island of Ogasawara islands at around 12:48 a.m. local time, (0348 GMT), 1,950 km south of Tokyo, NHK reported.

Waves of up to 30 cm were seen in the eastern coast of Hokkaido at around 2 p.m., making a landing on Japan's main coastline.

At 3:49 p.m. local time, tsunami of 120 cm was observed in Iwate prefecture's Kuji port, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

NHK TV footage showed roads near the Kuji port and Kesennuma Port in Miyagi Prefecture, among other ports, were flooded and the water level had been rising.

Kyodo News said that the town office of Otsuchi, also in Iwate prefecture, reported a tsunami of about 1.45 meters at the town's fishing port around 3:43 p.m..

Local governments had urged a total of 320,000 people in northeast Japan to evacuate, where the waves were expected to be more than 3 meters high.

About 30,000 people moved to public evacuation centers, according to the Kyodo News estimate.

The National Police Agency said no casualties were reported as of 5 p.m. Sunday.

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama appealed earlier in the day to people not to go near to the coastal areas and stay in the shelters until the evacuation orders are lifted.

"We must not drop our guard and please don't go near the coast, " Hatoyama said on TV.

Major tsunami alert is issued by the JMA for the pacific coast of Aomori prefecture, coast of Miyagi and Iwate prefectures in northeast Japan, saying "very high tsunami" with waves up to 3 meters are expected, and "everyone near the coast must immediately evacuate to higher ground."

It is the first time in 17 years for Japan to issue a major tsunami alert, a warning with the most intense level.

Tsunami warnings were also issued for other areas along Japan's Pacific coastline from Hokkaido to Okinawa but had been downgraded to an advisory in many areas.

Transportation on many lines of the country's railways and highways has also been initially suspended due to the tsunami.

An official of the weather agency's earthquake and tsunami observation section said in the NHK that the agency may have to keep the warnings in place for a long time because "the second and third waves could be bigger than the first waves."

Japan is particularly cautious about tsunamis and earthquakes as in May 1960, a tsunami struck the coasts of Hokkaido and the Sanriku region of Japan after the huge 9.5-magnitude quake in Chile, leaving around 140 people dead or missing.

An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 8.8 struck Chile Saturday, killing so far at least 300 people.

The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) already lifted its warning for every country, though some Pacific Rim countries, including Japan, were still keeping their warnings as precaution.

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