Tsunami reaches Japanese coast

A tsunami more than one metre (3
feet) high has hit Japan’s northern Pacific coast, nearly 24 hours after the
powerful earthquake in Chile.

Thousands of people were earlier
told to leave coastal areas after predictions bigger waves could strike.

Other Pacific nations were hit by
tsunamis, but the danger is now thought to have passed.

In Chile, the town of Talcahuano
was badly damaged while five people were killed on the Juan Fernandez islands.

Fishing boats there were thrown out
of the water in Talcahuano, and port facilities were damaged by a wave that US
scientists said was 2.34m high.

The town lies about 115km (70
miles) south-west of the epicentre of Saturday’s powerful earthquake.

Large waves struck Chile’s Juan
Fernandez island group, reaching halfway into one inhabited area and killing
five people. Several more are missing.

Two aid ships are reported to be on
their way.

Warning systems across the Pacific
have improved since the 2004 Indonesia quake sparked a tsunami that killed
nearly 250,000 people.

Nations and regions affected by the
Pacific “Ring of Fire” all sounded alerts, trying to estimate the anticipated
time of arrival of any tsunami following the earthquake, which struck on
Saturday at 0634 GMT.

The first tsunami waves to reach
Japan were reported to be just 10cm high, with a wave of 90cm following.

Officials later lifted a tsunami
warning for Japan’s coast, the first issued in more than 15 years.

The BBC’s Roland Buerk in Tokyo
says Japan has experienced many earthquakes of its own and was well prepared.

People in areas at risk were
ordered to move to higher ground, train services running along the coast were
suspended and steel gates across fishing harbours were shut.

In 1960 about 140 people were
killed by a tsunami in Japan after a major earthquake in Chile.

Thousands of people also left
coastal areas of the Philippines after warnings of a possible tsunami were
spread by text message.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center
had warned of “widespread damage” across the region following
Saturday’s quake, but later said waves were not as high as predicted.

A geophysicist at the centre,
Gerard Fryer, told the BBC that the tsunami’s impact was small because the
earthquake occurred in shallow water.

The earthquake was “big enough
to do significant damage, but not big enough to do anything large in the far
field”, he said.

Part of the Marquesas Islands in
French Polynesia were hit by a 4m (13ft) wave, but no casualties were reported.

In Tahiti, the tsunami waves were
smaller, causing little damage.


New Zealand’s Chatham Islands were
hit by a wave of 1.5m and areas along the main North and South Islands
experienced small surges with no reports of casualties or serious damage.

The tsunami warning has been
downgraded there but the emergency management department spokesman said there
could still be waves of up to 3m.

Sirens were sounded in Hawaii to
alert residents to the tsunami threat several hours before waves were expected.

The first waves hit about 2200 GMT
on Saturday, after water began moving away from the shore at Hilo Bay on the
Big Island before returning.

But correspondents say that,
although 8ft (2.5m) waves had been predicted, the islands experienced nothing
noticeably different from an ordinary stormy day.

Hawaiian officials later lifted the
tsunami warning.

Despite Australian warnings of
“possible dangerous waves, strong ocean currents and foreshore
flooding” on the east coast, swimmers and surfers flocked to Sydney’s
Bondi beach.