Japan imposes a mass tsunami evacuation but fears of destructive waves churned up by Chile's killer earthquake ebbed across the Pacific Ocean's vast "Ring of Fire".
Pacific tsunami fears wane
Japan imposed a mass tsunami evacuation today but fears of destructive waves churned up by Chile's killer earthquake ebbed across the Pacific Ocean's vast "Ring of Fire". Evacuation orders forced at least 320,000 people away from areas on Japan's east coast as oceanic surges up to 1.20 metres high slammed ashore. Swells from the turbulent sea flooded buildings in several ports. "Please do not approach the coast at any cost," prime minister Yukio Hatoyama warned in a nationally televised address as residents were shepherded to schools and other public facilities beyond the low-lying danger zone. But Japan later downgraded its alert and Russia cancelled its own warning after only minor waves reached the Kamchatka peninsula, while doughty swimmers and surfers in Australia defied official warnings and flocked to the beach. The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center lifted its tsunami warning for the entire region. Thousands of people in 19 Philippine provinces who had voluntarily fled were free to return home, officials in Manila said. Warning sirens had wailed as about 50 countries and territories along an arc stretching from New Zealand to Japan went on alert, five years after the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster that killed more than 220,000 people. Waves pummelled Chile and rolled through into Hawaii, French Polynesia and the South Pacific as the tsunami moved at jet-speed across the giant ocean after yesterday's 8.8-magnitude quake, which left at least 300 people dead. Five people were killed on the remote Robinson Crusoe archipelago far off the coast of Chile, the first reported tsunami casualties, but elsewhere no significant damage was reported and surges of water were smaller than expected. In Japan, one of the world's most quake-prone nations, authorities were brooking no chances with the mass evacuation. But damage appeared limited, as sea gates in fishing ports slammed shut and boats steamed home. Japan and Chile both lie on the "Ring of Fire", a belt of seismic fury responsible for most of the world's tremors and volcanoes. The Chilean disaster revived raw memories for Japan, where 140 lives were lost in 1960 when a 9.5-magnitude earthquake in the South American nation ? the largest on record ? sent a tsunami roaring across the Pacific. The Hawaii centre, set up by Pacific governments after the 1960 tsunami, had warned of possible "widespread damage" from waves as high as three metres. In Hawaii itself, the tsunami led to the evacuation of thousands of people and triggered panic buying of food, water and fuel. But there was little damage in the event. US President Barack Obama, who was born in Hawaii, had warned that the US western seaboard might see dangerous waves and currents throughout the day, and vowed "to take every step possible" as a precaution. One wave nearly 2.5 metres high slammed into Talcahuano, one of about 11 coastal towns in Chile pounded by the surge. Trawlers were sent shooting inland to the town square, where they lay marooned next to abandoned cars. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced a partial evacuation of Easter Island, but the island of about 4,000 people, known for its monolithic stone statues, received a relatively small onrush of water. In the island paradise of French Polynesia schools were closed, the port in Papeete was evacuated and thousands in Tahiti's hillside areas were taken to safety as the tsunami hit. Waves up to 1.5 metres high rammed New Zealand's eastern Chatham Islands. In Australia, the size of the surge dropped to around 40 centimetres although strong currents swelled up the east coast. People in Tonga and the Cook Islands fled to higher ground, all too mindful of the danger after a South Pacific tsunami killed more than 180 in September. * AFP