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Tiny tsunami reaches Japan

February 27, 2010 | 10:58 pm
Boats The first tsunami from the Chilean earthquake hit Japan's outlying islands on Sunday, but while the initial waves were small and most of the Pacific islands already in its path had been spared damage, officials warned a bigger surge could follow.

Japan's Meteorological Agency said the first wave to reach Japan after the magnitude 8.8 quake off Chile was recorded in the Ogasawara islands. It was just 4 inches high. Another, measuring about 12 inches, was observed in Hokkaido, to the north. There were no reports of damage.

As it crossed the Pacific, the tsunami has dealt populated areas — including the U.S. state of Hawaii — just a glancing blow.

But Japan, fearing the tsunami could gain force as it moved closer, put all of its eastern coastline on tsunami alert Sunday and ordered hundreds of thousands of residents in low-lying areas to seek higher ground as waves generated by the Chilean earthquake raced across the Pacific at hundreds of miles per hour.

Japan is particularly sensitive to the tsunami threat.

In July 1993 a tsunami triggered by a major earthquake off Japan's northern coast killed more than 200 people on the small island of Okushiri. A stronger quake near Chile in 1960 created a tsunami that killed about 140 people in Japan.

Towns along northern coasts issued evacuation orders to 400,000 residents, Japan's national broadcaster, NHK, said. NHK switched to emergency mode, broadcasting a map with the areas in most danger and repeatedly urging caution.

As the wave continued its expansion across the ocean, Japan's Meteorological Agency said its tsunami alert applied to its entire Pacific coast, with the waves expected to be biggest in the north. A tsunami of up to 9.8 feet was expected to hit the northern prefectures of Aomori, Iwate and Miyagi.

Residentss loaded into cars, but there were no reports of panic or traffic jams. Fishermen secured their boats, and police patrolled beaches, using sirens and loudspeakers to warn people to leave the area.

--Associated Press

Photo: People secure their boats at the Hayama port in Hayama town in Kanagawa prefecture in Japan as the tsunami moved closer. Credit: JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Image.