Wide swaths of the south Pacific, Asia and Australia braced for a tsunami after a devastating earthquake hit the coast of Chile yesterday.
Officials in Japan and Australia warned that a tsunami from the earthquake was likely to hit Asian, Australian and New Zealand shores within 24 hours.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii issued a tsunami warning that included the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia and many island nations in the Pacific. A lower-level advisory that a tsunami was possible was issued for northern Pacific locations, including the US West Coast and Alaska.
“Sea-level readings confirm that a tsunami has been generated which could cause widespread damage,” the center said in a bulletin after the magnitude-8.8 quake. “Authorities should take appropriate action to respond to this threat.”
The center said the first waves after a quake are not necessarily the largest and said tsunami wave heights are difficult to predict because they can vary significantly along a coast due to the local topography.
Earthquakes across the Pacific have had deadly effects on Asia in the past.
A tsunami after a magnitude-9.5 quake that struck Chile in 1960 — the largest earthquake ever recorded — killed about 140 people in Japan, 61 in Hawaii and 32 in the Philippines. That tsunami was about 1m to 4m in height, Japan’s Meteorological Agency said.
The tsunami from yesterday’s quake was likely to be much smaller because the quake itself was not as strong.
Japanese public broadcaster NHK quoted earthquake experts as saying the tsunami would likely be tens of centimeters high and reach Japan in about 22 hours. A tsunami of 28cm was recorded after a magnitude-8.4 earthquake near Chile in 2001.
The Meteorological Agency said it was still investigating the likelihood of a tsunami from the magnitude-8.8 quake and did not issue a formal coastal warning.
Australia, meanwhile, was put on a tsunami watch.
The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Center issued a warning for a “potential tsunami threat” to New South Wales state, Queensland state, Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island. Any potential wave would not hit Australia until this morning, it said.
The Philippine Institute of Vulcanology and Seismology issued a low-level alert saying people should await further notice of a possible tsunami. It did not recommend evacuations.
The earthquake that struck early yesterday in central Chile shook the capital for a minute and a half.
As of press time, the death toll from the earthquake has increased to 78, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet told reporters in Santiago yesterday.
A tsunami could hit Chile’s Easter Island Bachelete said, adding that coastal areas of the island were being evacuated.
Meanwhile, New Zealand issued a tsunami alert, the government said.
“There is a possible marine threat along the east coast of the North Island and South Island and Chatham Island,” New Zealand’s Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergency Management said, warning of waves of up to 1m.
Meanwhile, James Chang (章計平), deputy director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in Taipei that last night the ministry had reached the country’s representative to Chile, Ko Jai-son (柯吉生), by telephone, and he confirmed that all government staff at the representative office in Santiago were safe.