Tsunami warning lifted as Hawaii "dodges a bullet"

11:44, February 28, 2010      

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The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) on Saturday lifted a tsunami warning for Hawaii which "dodged a bullet" as tsunami waves triggered by a strong earthquake in Chile passed by.

"We clearly had a tsunami in the water and we had to evacuate," said Gerard Fryer of the center, adding it looks like Hawaii "dodged a bullet" since the worst seems to have passed.

Governor Linda Lingle said Hawaii escaped the tsunami unscathed.

The authorities received no report of damage in any county, said Lingle, calling it "a great day now that it's over."

The first waves of tsunami triggered by the 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile began to affect Hawaii just before noon, reaching the Hilo Bay on the Big Island at about 11:15 a.m. local time (2115 GMT), slightly later than predicted.

The waves became increasingly visible in live television video from the bay. The tidal surges from peak to trough were about five feet, but there was no immediate report of damage.

Other Hawaii islands also saw water fluctuations off beaches.

Ed Teixeira, vice director of state Cvil Defense, reported surges four to five feet high in Kahului Harbor on Maui Island just after noon.

In Oahu, the Civil Defense said the first small waves hit the island at about 11:20 a.m. (2120 GMT).

While there were no reports of injuries and the tsunami threat appears to have abated, emergency officials have repeatedly stated that everyone should be safely away from the water during a warning.

The PTWC said the first wave was followed by a second wave 20 minutes later and more waves could follow.

Experts urged people to remain cautious as the following waves of tsunami may be more powerful than the first ones.

Tsunamis are unpredictable and can last for hours and strongly, officials warned.

The PTWC issued a Pacific-wide tsunami warning early Saturday, leading to sirens that shook many residents out of bed.

Residents should remain alert and cautious, Acting Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said.

"They shouldn't relax," Caldwell said. "They should take this very seriously. ... This is the ocean rising. It's going to be pushing things in front of it. It's going to be pushing people. It's an extremely deadly situation."

People should prepare for the worst, but there was no need to panic, he said.

The state Civil Defense Department advised residents to prepare an emergency plan to locate family members if they become separated and to prepare an emergency supply kit well in advance of the tsunami's estimated arrival.

The Honolulu Board of Water Supply is asking all Oahu residents to conserve water.

Governor Linda Lingle issued an emergency proclamation, saying one of the biggest issues is the concern that flooding could create long-term damage to pump stations in Honolulu and Maui.

She said officials were pondering whether to shut down the stations to avoid long-term damage.

As tsunami warnings sounded and the authorities urged residents to be on high alert, shoppers in some areas were rushing to stores for last-minute supplies, stocking up on water, soda, toilet paper and large bags of dog food.

Some shops reported shortage of some commodities, particularly bottled water, and stores near beaches are closed.

Parking lots at shopping centers were jammed and people were waiting in line to check out.

Main roads leading to beaches and in inundation zones were closed and fewer cars were seen on streets in Honolulu. People in low-lying areas have moved to highlands, while hotels and buildings were evacuating visitors to third-floor levels.

But the situation remained generally calm.

"I see no panic although people are preparing for the worst," said Liu Yanghui, a student from China who studies at University of Hawaii. "Life doesn't seem to change a lot. Residents do not seem to be afraid because they are familiar with tidal waves."

President Barack Obama issued a statement at the White House, urging people in Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa and the West Coast to heed the instructions of local authorities about evacuations and other measures.

"We can't control nature, but we can and must be prepared for disaster when it strikes," he said.

In California, the specter of tsunami waves hitting Southern California coast seemed to be a washout, as the arrival of tsunami surges came and went with only a small impact observed.

Police reported that the predicted 12:25 p.m. (2225 GMT) arrival time came and went without any impact.

To the south, lifeguards in San Diego saw a six-foot tidal switch in La Jolla.

"It wasn't dangerous, but the water went out lower than an especially low tide and came back in," said San Diego lifeguard Lt. John Everhart. "That was definitely a tsunami event."

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