Santa Barbara County emergency officials were mobilizing early Friday after a large tsunami was generated by a devastating 8.9-magnitude earthquake off Japan’s northeastern coast. The surge was traveling at 500 to 600 mph as it raced east across the open ocean.
Waves of up to 1½ feet reached the Santa Barbara Harbor about 8:15 a.m., waterfront officials told Noozhawk. Elevated swells could continue for several hours and subsequent swells or waves can be larger than ones that came before them.
A Feb. 27, 2010, tsunami triggered by an 8.8 earthquake in Chile sent a 10-inch tidal surge into the harbor, but no injuries or damage were reported.
No evacuation orders have been issued on the South Coast, but the county Office of Emergency Services warned swimmers and surfers to stay out of the water because of dangerous currents and riptides. Live-aboard residents and boats are asked to exercise caution, and Santa Barbara municipal emergency crews are taking steps to protect the harbor area.
Click here for regional maps of recognized tsunami inundation hazard zones in Santa Barbara County.
Office of Emergency Services spokesman Michael Harris said the agency has asked people to stay away from low-lying areas north of Point Conception. He said county Parks Department officials have closed all beach parks along the coast of Santa Barbara.
The West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami advisory for the California coastline between Point Conception west of Santa Barbara and the Mexico border and from the Oregon-Washington border to Chignik Bay, Alaska.
The advisory and warning will remain in effect until further notice, officials said. Almost all of the Pacific Rim was on tsunami alert Friday.
According to the National Weather Service, tsunami warnings mean a tsunami with significant widespread inundation is expected, along with dangerous coastal flooding. Powerful currents are possible and may continue for several hours after the initial wave. Coastal residents are asked to move inland to higher ground, and boats and ships should be repositioned to deep water when there is time to safely do so.
Tsunami advisories mean a tsunami capable of producing strong currents and waves is expected, and currents may be hazardous to swimmers, surfers, boats and coastal structures. Authorities said significant widespread inundation is not expected in advisory areas but unsettled conditions could continue for several hours afterward.
Authorities said waves were expected to reach Monterey Bay at 7:44 a.m., Port San Luis at 8:03 a.m., San Francisco Bay at 8:08 a.m., Santa Barbara Harbor at 8:15 a.m., Rincon Point at 8:28 a.m., the Ventura County coast at 8:30 a.m., Santa Monica at 8:31 a.m., San Pedro at 8:32 a.m., Newport Beach at 8:37 a.m. and La Jolla at 8:41 a.m.
Orange County beaches have been closed Friday morning as a precaution.
While Santa Barbara expected a swell of 2 to 3 feet, coastal areas north of Point Conception were likely to experience waves of 3½ feet and above 7 feet, with 7.1 feet expected in Port San Luis Harbor.
Morro Bay should see surges of 3.9 feet, Pismo Beach 2.4 feet, Guadalupe 3.3 feet, Carpinteria 1.6 feet, Ventura 2.9 feet, Malibu 1.2 feet, Santa Monica 2.8 feet, Redondo Beach 2.1 feet, San Pedro Harbor 1.3 feet and Huntington Beach 2.3 feet.
Waves topping 6 feet could slam Crescent City, south of the Oregon border, and evacuation sirens began sounding just before 5:30 a.m. Waves generated by a 2006 earthquake in Japan destroyed part of the Del Norte County community and damaged fishing boats. A tsunami after the magnitude-9.2 Alaska Earthquake in 1964 killed a dozen people and caused millions of dollars in damage in the town.
All of Hawaii’s islands are in the tsunami’s path and officials said waves at least 3 feet high hit Kauai and Oahu just after 3 a.m. local time (5 a.m. Pacific time) while Maui was swept by waves of 6-8 feet. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.
All coastal areas were evacuated by 2 a.m. local time and Waikiki Beach hotels implemented vertical evacuations in which guests were moved to higher floors. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center warned that the waves would continue and could become as high as 6 feet, but not a solid “wall” of water.
Hawaii itself was hit by a 4.6-magnitude earthquake just before 11 p.m. local time Thursday. No injuries or damage were reported from the quake, whose epicenter was 10 miles south southwest of Leilani Estates.
The 8.9-magnitude earthquake that slammed Japan struck at 2:46 p.m. Friday (10:46 p.m. Thursday Pacific time) and was followed within an hour by five powerful aftershocks, including a magnitude-7.1, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS said the earthquake was the world’s fifth strongest recorded quake since 1900.
The quake’s epicenter was 81 miles off the coast of Sendai, the capital of Miyagi prefecture, and it struck at a depth of 12 miles.
Japan experienced widespread and devastating damage from the quake, and at least 400 deaths and thousands of injuries were reported. Airports were closed, the country’s bullet train services were suspended, and as many as 4 million people were without power in Tokyo. Fires sparked by the quake were burning throughout the region. Near-freezing temperatures were an added complication.
Officials said Sendai was hit by a wall of water 33 feet high. Live TV coverage showed cars, boats and buildings being carried along by 25-foot tsunami surges for miles inland. A large ship was swept onto a breakwater in Kesennuma north of Tokyo.
» Click here for updates from the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center.
» Click here for estimated arrival times of tsunami surges along the West Coast.
» Click here for a map of the Japan earthquake and tsunami.
» Click here for the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Services. Click here to sign up for the OES’ messaging service. Follow the OES on Facebook.
» Twitter hashtags for the Japan earthquake and tsunami include #tsunami, #prayforjapan, #Sendai, #Fukushima, #Guam and #WakeIsland.