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Tsunami Hits Chile as Pacific Rim Fears Disaster

Saturday, 27 Feb 2010 11:52 AM

SYDNEY - A tsunami crashed into Chile's coast Saturday in a potential portent of disaster across the vast Pacific ocean as nations went on alert for towering waves generated by a killer earthquake.

Sirens blared in French Polynesia to warn residents to find higher ground as a tsunami watch went into effect across the Pacific's "Ring of Fire" after the 8.8-magnitude quake in Chile, which left at least 122 people dead.

Nations along an arc stretching from New Zealand to Japan implemented emergency plans that were beefed up after the Indian Ocean disaster of 2004, when a series of immensely destructive tsunamis killed more than 220,000.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, set up by Pacific governments after a tsunami unleashed by a deadly 9.5 magnitude earthquake in Chile in 1960, warned of possible "widespread damage" as outsized waves raced across the ocean.

"We could be looking at an all-day event," US National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Lau told AFP in Washington.

"It will stop once it hits the land masses on the other side of the Pacific, in Asia. The wave is spread out across the entire body of water in the Pacific."

Authorities in the US state of Hawaii, where the warning centre is based, said residents would shortly start hearing tsunami sirens.

"If you live anywhere in the evacuation zone, you have to evacuate," Oahu Emergency Management Department John Cummings said. "We're going to treat this as a destructive-type tsunami."

One tsunami measuring 7.7 feet (2.34 meters) slammed into Talcahuano, one of about 11 coastal towns in Chile hit by the wave, according to the Pacific centre. There was no immediate word of casualties.

Chile's remote Robinson Crusoe Island, some 700 kilometres (430 miles) from the mainland, was also smashed by a huge wave, while President Michelle Bachelet announced a partial evacuation of Easter Island.

The pan-Pacific tsunami warning applied also to Central America, and authorities as far afield as Russia's Sakhalin island were monitoring the potential for tidal trouble.

In the tourist paradise of French Polynesia, the local government said the first waves were expected to reach the Gambier archipelago imminently. Sirens and loudspeaker announcements woke up residents in the middle of the night.

New Zealand warned of a wall of water up to three metres (10 feet) high potentially hitting some of its outlying islands and part of the South Island, as the country's National Crisis Management Centre went on alert.

The civil defence ministry said the tsunami could strike the country's east coast from 7:05 am Sunday (1805 GMT Saturday).

The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre warned of the "possibility of dangerous waves, strong ocean currents and foreshore flooding" along the coast between Sydney and Brisbane.

Authorities in Indonesia and Taiwan said they were monitoring, while Philippine officials started planning for possible evacuations.

Jake Phillips, a forecaster with Australia's Bureau of Meteorology, played down the risk of major flooding in heavily populated coastal areas.

"But there is a marine threat and that would include anyone out boating or rock fishermen," he said.

Memories are still raw in Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga of a terrifying tsunami that trashed entire villages in September, leaving 184 dead.

The Hawaii operation manages a network of early-warning electronic buoys strung across the Pacific Ocean. But the September waves came so suddenly as to give little time for escape.

A week later, a rapid succession of quakes off Vanuatu created panic across the South Pacific. The region is in the middle of the "Ring of Fire", a belt of seismic fury responsible for most of the world's tremors and volcanoes.

Any tsunami will show up in Australia from about 8:15 am on Sunday (2115 GMT Saturday), officials said.

Seismic waves could reach the east coast of Japan around noon Sunday (0300 GMT), according to the country's meteorological agency.

"We would like people to be fully on alert for related information," agency official Yasuo Sekita told a hastily arranged news conference, as Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama ordered his government to be ready for relief work.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

© Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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SYDNEY - A tsunami crashed into Chile's coast Saturday in a potential portent of disaster across the vast Pacific ocean as nations went on alert for towering waves generated by a killer earthquake.
Saturday, 27 Feb 2010 11:52 AM
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