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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tsunami Warning Lifted for Hawaii

Honolulu, Hawaii (CNN) -- The tsunami warning is canceled for the state of Hawaii, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.

"There was no assessment of any damage in any county, which is quite remarkable," said Gov. Linda Lingle, who said witnesses had reported seeing "dramatic surges going on in the ocean."

An official with the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the island chain had "dodged a bullet" after smaller-than-expected waves were reported as a result of a massive earthquake that struck Chile early Saturday.

The first waves of the tsunami were recorded on The Big Island around noon (5 p.m. ET), 16 hours after the Chilean temblor.

Gauges showed water levels rising 3 feet in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii and remaining at that level.

"It's almost the best sort of tsunami you can possibly have, one that's big enough that everyone sees that something happened, but not big enough to cause any damage," said Gerald Fryer, a geophysicist with the warning center.

The arrival of the tsunami waves was preceded by receding water that exposed reefs and churned up silt.

Earlier, Hawaiian residents scrambled to stock up on water, gas and food as sirens pierced the early morning quiet across the islands ahead of the tsunami.

Roads to beaches and other low-lying areas were closed and seaside hotels were moving guests to higher ground.

At Honolulu's Hilton Waikoloa Hotel, guests with cars headed inland and buses moved hundreds of others to a nearby evacuation center.

At supermarkets, residents stocked up on essentials like water and toilet paper in anticipation of the high waters. One sign at a local store limited families to two cases of Spam.

Beaches that would normally be crowded with sunbathers at midday on a Saturday were deserted. Commercial and recreational vessels seeking safe waters lined up a mile off the coast.

County sirens were sounding hourly "to alert residents and visitors to evacuate coastal areas," Hawaii's Civil Defense Division said in a statement.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning, the highest level of a tsunami alert, for the entire Pacific region, including countries as far away as Russia, Japan and Australia.

At the Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Center in Melbourne, Australia, co-director Chris Ryan said tsunami waves were beginning to strike parts of Tasmania "and we expect to begin to see more measurements along the Victoria and New South Wales coasts."

He predicted waves would reach a height of about half a meter (1.6 feet) above normal tide levels, but predicted they would cause little damage.

California and Alaska are under a tsunami advisory.

Tsunami waves came ashore along the Chilean coast shortly after the earthquake, U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Victor Sardina told CNN.

He said the largest was 9 feet near the quake's epicenter. Another wave, 7.7 feet, hit the Chilean town of Talcahuano, according to Eric Lau of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

Video from the town showed one car sitting in a large expanse of water and boats littering the docks.

A large wave on the island of Juan Fernandez -- 400 miles (643 km) off Chile's coast -- killed three people, Provincial Governor Ivan De La Maza said. Ten people were missing.

Navigational buoys in Ventura County, California, sustained minor damage as a result of a 2-foot surge and waves, according to the Alaska Tsunami Warning Center. The Ventura County Fire Department had one report of damage to a resident's dock from the surge.

Speaking Saturday afternoon in Washington, President Obama urged people in Hawaii, Guam and American Samoa, also under a tsunami warning, to prepare.

"We can't control nature, but we can and must be prepared for disaster when it strikes," he said in a brief statement at the White House.

The 13th Air Force, in Hawaii, launched planes carrying loudspeakers to alert people in coastal areas not near sirens to evacuate.

Before the tsunami struck, Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle said she had already declared a state of emergency.

In 1960, a tsunami triggered by an earthquake on South America's west coast destroyed much of downtown Hilo and killed 61 people, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The earthquake had a magnitude between 8.25 and 8.5, the USGS said, and the waves in Hilo Bay reached 35 feet, but only 3 to 17 elsewhere.

CNN's Thelma Gutierrez, Mike Ahlers and Carey Bodenheimer contributed to this report.

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