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Obama warns West Coast residents to prepare for 'dangerous waves and currents'

February 27, 2010 | 12:55 pm

Tsunamimap2010-info-yellow President Obama on Saturday warned West Coast residents to be prepared for "dangerous waves and currents," as government officials prepared for a tsunami to hit Hawaii, Guam and American Samoa.

"Once again, we've been reminded of the awful devastation that can come at a moment's notice," Obama said. "We can't control nature, but we can and must be prepared for disaster when it strikes."

Jennifer Rhodes, tsunami programming manager with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in a CNN interview that in addition to the tsunami warning issued for Hawaii, the government had issued a lower-grade tsunami advisory for California, Alaska and the rest of the West Coast.

“We are expecting to see very significant currents in the area, very turbulent waters in bays and harbors,’’ she said. She warned people to be aware that a tsunami is not a single large wave, but a series of waves -- often arriving an hour or more apart -- and that the first wave is not always the largest.

“So it is important to move to higher ground, get off the beach and to remain in a safe location,’’ she said, urging people to move location by foot to leave highways free for emergency vehicles.

Los Angeles County fire officials said they were not warning people to stay off beaches because they did not expect waves to rise more than 3 feet.

The advisory was issued after an 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck about 200 miles southwest of Santiago, Chile, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

-- Janet Hook reporting from Washington 

Graphic: The map shows estimated arrival times Saturday of the minor tsunami, according to predictions issued by the National Weather Service. Credit: Rong-Gong Lin II / Los Angeles Times

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