Tsunami Hits US: People Swept Out to Sea

March 11, 2011; 3:00 PM ET
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Tsunami warnings and advisories remain in effect for Hawaii, Alaska and the West Coast of the U.S., as the number of locations across the Pacific Ocean reporting tsunami activity continues to grow.

The tsunami that struck Japan immediately after the powerful 8.9-magnitude earthquake measured 23 feet, according to the Associated Press.

Hundreds of people are dead in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami.

A 10.8-foot tsunami was recorded in the northern Japanese coastal city of Ofunato shortly after 1 a.m. EST Friday. Hanasaki recorded 9.3 feet.

Tsunami wave activity reached U.S. soil with Midway Island, located near the international date line and northwest of Hawaii, measuring a height of 5.1 feet above normal sea level early this morning.

The Alaskan Aleutian Island of Shemya initially reported a tsunami wave of 3.5 feet. That number later rose to 5.1 feet.

The tsunami wave reached Hawaii shortly after 3 a.m. HST (8 a.m. EST).

The Associated Press reports the tsunami measured 7 feet at Maui's Kahului Harbor. Haleiwa, located on Hawaii's O'ahu island, recorded a tsunami wave of 3.3 feet. A tsunami wave of about 11 feet was observed at Kona, Hawaii.

This graph shows the variation in water (tide) levels at Honolulu early Friday morning with the first spike evidencing the first tsunami wave that washed onshore.

KITV from Honolulu is receiving reports that the tsunami pressed 75 feet inland on Hawaii's Big Island.

The tsunami was reaching the west coast of the continental U.S. and Canada at midday.

Crescent City, Calif. reported 8.1 feet, and Port San Luis reported 6.3 feet. In Oregon, Port Orford reported 6.1 feet.

According to Fox News, four people in Crescent City were swept out to sea, and as of 3 p.m. EST, one has been confirmed dead. There has been extensive damage to the harbor in Crescent City, ranging from destroyed docks to shipwrecked boats.

There has been some damage reported in Santa Cruz Harbor, Calif., as parked boats broke away from their docks. Some overturned, and many more are floating freely.

A boat sinks into the ocean in the aftermath of the surge caused by a tsunami on the harbor in Santa Cruz, Calif., Friday, March 11, 2011. A ferocious tsunami unleashed by Japan's biggest recorded earthquake slammed into its eastern coast Friday, killing hundreds of people as it carried away ships, cars and homes, and triggered widespread fires that burned out of control. Hours later, the waves washed ashore on Hawaii and the U.S. West coast, where evacuations were ordered from California to Washington. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The waves will hit the west coast of Mexico from the late morning into the early afternoon. Next the waves will hit the west coast of Central and South America later during the afternoon and evening.

People should move away from the immediate coastal areas as the waves will penetrate much farther inland than the beaches, perhaps as far as several city blocks, depending on the height of the waves.

Expert Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski stated, "You should not be on the beach waiting to watch the waves as they are much different than the rollers generated by storms."

"The tsunami is basically a wall of water, more similar to a flash flood along a stream," Sosnowski added.

The tsunami is actually not a single wave, but rather a series of waves that can be of varying height.

If you cannot reach a safe location inland, seek shelter several stories up in a building.

The image below shows that much more wave energy (height) is aiming for the southern part of the coast of South America, rather than toward the Canada/U.S. coast.


This image appears courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. To convert from centimeters to inches, divide the values on the right by 2.54. (120 cm = 47.4 inches or just under 4 feet)

It would be ironic if Chile, which was hit by multiple earthquakes this year would be struck by a tsunami generated in Japan.

The quakes that hit Chile in recent weeks did not generate tsunamis.

Fortunately, it appears the waves that strike much of the shoreline along the west coast of the Americas will be under 4 feet. However, there will be some exceptions, where bays funnel and magnify the tsunami.

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