Wellington (AFP) March 12, 2011
A tsunami triggered by the powerful earthquake in Japan ploughed across the South Pacific Saturday, sending people fleeing to higher ground but causing only minor damage and no loss of life.
Dozens of low-lying island nations were placed on high alert after a monster 10-metre (33-foot) tsunami smashed into Japan following Friday's devastating 8.9-magnitude earthquake centred near the northeastern city of Sendai.
The death toll from the earthquake and tsunami is expected to be more than 1,000 in Japan, but the wave appeared to have limited power when it finally hit the South Pacific.
In the Marquesas islands sirens blared, warning residents to flee to higher ground. Although waves up to three metres were forecast, they were less than a metre when they swept in, but still flooded some houses.
In New Zealand, civil defence officials warned of waves of just over one metre and advised people to stay away from beach areas.
However, the first wave "was rather insignificant and hardly visible to the naked eye," said civil defence operations manager David Coetzee as hundreds of people made their way to the shoreline to see what the fuss was about.
"It looks pretty good out there and we are not the first ones out," Graeme Barnard told the Waikato Times newspaper as he set out for a day's fishing off Hamilton, on the west coast of the North Island.
In Tonga, where a tsunami that killed nine people 18 months ago remains fresh in the memory, many people rushed to higher ground for safety while others tested the power of the tsunami by going for a swim.
"The current was flowing differently and you could feel it in the water," said Matangi Tonga editor Pesi Fonua, who entered the water near the capital Nuku'alofa.
"We noticed that the water along the reef was higher but the foreshore level by the Dateline Hotel was lower than usual."
In the Solomon Islands, aid agency Oxfam said that a surge of water destroyed one house and washed several canoes out to sea in the northern Isabel province.
And Papua New Guinea experienced dramatic and unusual tides which caused flooding in some areas, according to officials. Oxfam was supplying tarpaulin, food and water in the affected area.
The Boram Hospital at Wewak on PNG's northern shore had "suffered serious damage when it was flooded by waves" and half its 100 patients had to be evacuated, Oxfam said.
Bill Yomba, manning operations at the Papua New Guinea National Disaster Centre, said locals in northern provinces noted coastal waters rushing in and out but no giant waves.
"They've seen tides they have never seen before... now it's low tide, but the next minute it's high tide again, that's what they experienced," he said.
Australian officials said the wave surges experienced along its vast coastline overnight were in line with projections -- measuring only between six and 20 centimetres (three to eight inches).
Residents in the Northern Marianas and Guam were ordered to evacuate low-lying areas and head to higher ground before the warning was lifted with no evidence of damage.
In Samoa, Fiji and several other small nations the tsunami warning was raised and lowered without any sign of an ocean surge while in American Samoa a wave of 50 centimetres was recorded at Pago Pago.
Reports from Tahiti said waves swamped beachfront gardens.
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Tokyo (AFP) March 12, 2011
Japanese naval and coastguard helicopters have found a ship that was swept out to sea by a massive tsunami and airlifted all 81 people aboard to safety, Jiji Press reported Saturday. The ship was owned by a shipbuilder in Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture. Friday's massive quake struck just under 400 kilometres (250 miles) northeast of Tokyo, creating a 10-metre (33 feet) tsunami wave that h ... read more
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