Hawaii braced Saturday for a potentially damaging tsunami, after a massive earthquake off Chile sent waves across the Pacific Ocean.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning — its highest alert — for Hawaii, where incoming waves could cause damage along the coastlines across the island chain. A warning was also in effect for Guam, American Samoa and dozens of other Pacific islands.
The first waves were expected to arrive in Hawaii at 11:19 a.m. Saturday (4:19 p.m. EST).
The Ewa Beach, Hawaii-based center called for “urgent action to protect lives and property” in Hawaii, which is among 53 nations and territories subject to tsunami warnings.
“The main thing is we want everyone to take this event seriously,” said Charles McCreery, director of the center.
Mr. McCreery said he didn’t know how big the waves will be, but he expected them to be the largest to hit Hawaii since 1964.
The largest earthquake ever recorded struck the same area of Chile in 1960. The deadly wave that it caused raced across the Pacific and hit the Hilo area of the Big Island, where 61 people were killed.
It planned to sound civil defense sirens across the island state at 6 a.m. local time (11 a.m. EST) after the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said a tsunami was generated that could cause damage along the coasts of all the Hawaiian islands,
“Get off the shore line. We are closing all the beaches and telling people to drive out of the area,” said John Cummings, Oahu Civil Defense spokesman.
Buses will patrol beaches and take people to parks in a voluntary process expected to last five hours.
More than an hour before sirens were due to sound lines of cars snaked for blocks from gas stations in Honolulu.
“Urgent action should be taken to protect lives and property,” the Warning Center said in a bulletin. “All shores are at risk no matter which direction they face.”
The center has issued a Pacific-wide tsunami warning that included Hawaii and stretched across the ocean from South America to the Pacific Rim.
Geophysicist Victor Sardina said the Hawaii-based center was urging all countries included in the warning to take the threat very seriously.
“Everybody is under a warning because the wave, we know, is on its way. Everybody is at risk now,” he said in a telephone interview.
The warning follows a huge earthquake in Chile that killed at least 82 people and triggered tsunamis up and down the coast of the earthquake-prone country.
The center estimates the first tsunami, which is a series of several waves in succession, will hit Hawaii at 11:19 a.m. Hawaii time (4:19 p.m. EST) in the town of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, with waves in Honolulu at 11:52 a.m.
Sardina said the Hawaiian islands could expect waves of six feet (two meters) in some places. Other estimates have been higher but he could not confirm those were likely.
Sardina said the center was looking at Hilo Bay on Hawaii Island as a worst-case scenario right now.
“The shape of the bay favors the waves gaining in height,” he said in a telephone interview.
He said California and Alaska could also be affected, but the impact on those coasts should be minimal.