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Crescent City Docks Destroyed by Ocean Surge

Crescent City Docks.jpg

Japan's massive earthquake triggered a small tsunami that tore apart two docks at Crescent City Harbor this afternoon. Two boats also broke loose from their moorings.

No tsunami warning was issued for California after the 8.1 quake hit off Japan around 3 a.m. Pacific Time.

Thousands of people living along northern Japan's Pacific coast fled to higher ground Wednesday after the powerful undersea earthquake prompted tsunami warnings as far away as Alaska.

The quake struck an area claimed by both Russia and Japan, but the waves did not swell higher than 23 inches. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage. Japan's meteorological agency withdrew its tsunami warning after about three hours. Tsunami warnings posted for Russia and coastal areas of Alaska also were canceled, as were tsunami watches for Hawaii, the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia and several Pacific islands.

But for several tense hours, communities along Hokkaido's northeastern shore braced for larger waves, with thousands fleeing the coastline for higher ground. Fishermen scrambled to secure their boats, police cars made rounds of deserted piers, and ad hoc evacuation centers were set up in schools and town halls.

Masayuki Kikuchi, a town official in Nemuro, in Hokkaido, said the city dispatched about 20 fire trucks and cars immediately after the tsunami alert to instruct coastal residents to evacuate to higher ground. ``There was no panic,'' Kikuchi said. ``Residents made their way to high ground, just like they do in our annual tsunami drill.''

Residents in Japan, one of the world's most quake-prone countries, learn through countless drills and government campaigns that temblors can generate waves that can rise to deadly heights once they arrive at shore. In 1993, a quake off Hokkaido triggered a tsunami measuring 100 feet tall on Okushiri Island, flattening homes there within minutes. More than 200 people died in the waves, and in fires caused by the quake.

Japan's Meteorological Agency issues tsunami warnings even when only tiny waves are expected, and the country's most heavily populated coastlines are fitted with loudspeakers to order tsunami evacuations. Hirokawa, a coastal town in western Japan, holds annual shouting competitions for tsunami warnings.

Wednesday's quake struck at 6:15 a.m. EST about 245 miles east of the island known in Japan as Etorofu, according to the Japanese meteorological agency. It put the magnitude at 8.1, while the U.S. Geological Survey estimated the magnitude at 7.8. Etorofu, which is about 110 miles northeast of Hokkaido, is one of four islands in the southern Kuril chain claimed by both Japan and Russia. Etorofu is known in Russia as Iturup.

The Japanese meteorological agency initially warned of tsunami about 6{ feet tall or higher, and issued an alert for northeast Hokkaido. The first wave was recorded at Nemuro port on Hokkaido hit about 45 minutes after the quake struck, but was estimated at only 16 inches. The waves got progressively smaller, though the agency said one measuring 23 inches hit Tokachi port in south Hokkaido almost four hours after the quake.

All tsunami alerts and watches were called off at 11:30 a.m. EST. In neighboring Russia, no damage or casualties were reported as a result of the quake, according to Olga Shekhovtseva, spokeswoman for the Emergency Situations Ministry branch in the Sakhalin region, which includes the Kuril Islands.

Residents in the sparsely populated Kurils were warned of the threat but were not evacuated, she said, contradicting earlier Russian news agency reports that said residents were being evacuated from shoreline areas to safer ground.

The Russian-held islands, which Japan calls the Northern territories, were occupied by the Soviet Union in the closing days of World War II. They are surrounded by rich fishing waters and are believed to have promising offshore oil and natural gas reserves, and also have gold and silver deposits. The population, though, has plummeted to just 9,900, according to official statistics.

Temblors of magnitude 7 or higher are generally classified as major earthquakes, capable of widespread, heavy damage. A magnitude 9.1-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Indonesia on Dec. 26, 2004 caused a tsunami that killed at least 213,000 people in 11 countries. Those waves reached as high as 33 feet.

© KCBS


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