Chilean earthquake triggers tsunami alerts across Pacific

10:29, February 28, 2010      

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The powerful earthquake that rocked southern Chile early Saturday triggered a number of tsunami alerts and warnings across the Pacific Ocean.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said Saturday that the 8.8 magnitude earthquake that killed at least 78 people in Chile generated tsunamis carrying waves as high as 1.5 meters and traveling at 800 km per hour to the north and south.

"Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated. It may have been destructive along coasts near the earthquake epicenter and could also be a threat to more distant coasts," the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.

Tsunami warnings were issued over a wide area, including Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Antarctica, Australia, the U.S. state of Hawaii and dozens of other Pacific islands after the earthquake struck 320 km southwest of Santiago.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center warned that a tsunami had been generated that could cause damage along the coastlines of all islands in the U.S. state of Hawaii.

It estimated the arrival time of the first tsunami wave at 11:19 a.m. Hawaii time (2100 GMT).

"Urgent action should be taken to protect lives and property," the center said.

The center said authorities should take appropriate action in response to the threat.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK cited earthquake experts as saying that a tsunami could reach Japan in about 22 hours.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said it was still investigating the possibility of a tsunami reaching Japan after the Chilean quake.

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama told reporters that he has instructed relevant officials to gather information on the circumstances in the affected area and to prepare aid if necessary.

A tsunami struck the coasts of Hokkaido and the Sanriku region in May 1960 after an earthquake in Chile and about 140 people were killed or went missing.

The Philippine government on Saturday issued the lowest level of tsunami alert after the quake.

While no evacuation order was in effect, communities along the Eastern coast of the Philippines were advised to prepare for possible evacuation, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said.

A tsunami warning was in effect for New Zealand late Saturday following the massive quake in South America, said New Zealand's Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergency Management.

If a tsunami has been generated, the first wave could arrive in New Zealand in the areas around Chatham Island (Waitangi Side) at approximately 07:05 a.m. New Zealand local time Sunday, the ministry said.

The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Center late Saturday also issued tsunami warnings for New South Wales state, Queensland state, Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island.

The center said there is a "potential tsunami threat" and the possibility of dangerous waves, strong ocean currents and foreshore flooding in the warned areas for several hours from Sunday morning.

Sea level observations have confirmed a tsunami has been generated, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.

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