Tsunami sweeps 5 to sea, rips out Calif. docks

Posted: Updated:

(AP) - A tsunami swept at least fivepeople watching the waves out to sea Friday and ripped docks out ofharbors in California and Oregon, spreading the destruction of adevastating Japanese earthquake to the shores of the United States.

Four people were rescued from the water in southern Oregon, butone man who was taking photos in Northern California was stillmissing Friday afternoon. Coast Guard helicopters searched for himnear the mouth of the Klamath River in Del Norte County, Calif.,but called his chances of survival slim in the cold, rough ocean.

The large waves shook loose boats and tore apart docks in atleast two California harbors and one in Oregon, causing millions ofdollars of damage.

A man was found dead aboard a commercial vessel in Brookings,but sheriff's officials said it appeared to be from natural causes.

The waves didn't make it over a 20-foot break wall protectingthe rest of the city, and no home damage was immediately reported.

President Barack Obama said the Federal Emergency ManagementAgency is ready to come to the aid of any U.S. states orterritories who need help.

Earlier, the tsunami hit Hawaii before dawn, rushing up onroadways and into hotel lobbies on the Big Island and low-lyingareas in Maui were flooded as 7-foot waves crashed ashore.

Scientists warned that the first tsunami waves are not alwaysthe strongest, and officials said people in Hawaii and along theWest Coast should remain vigilant. Tsunami warnings continued inCalifornia and Oregon, but were downgraded to an advisory inHawaii, and Gov. Neil Abercrombie said the islands were "fortunatealmost beyond words."

The tsunami, spawned by an 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Japan,killed hundreds as it slammed the eastern coast of Japan, sweepingaway boats, cars, homes and people as widespread fires burned outof control. It raced across the Pacific at 500 mph - as fast as ajetliner - before hitting Hawaii and the West Coast. Sirens soundedfor hours on the islands and the West Coast before dawn androadways and beaches were mostly empty as the tsunami struck.

It is the second time in a little over a year that Hawaii andthe U.S. West coast faced the threat of a massive tsunami. Amagnitude-8.8 earthquake in Chile spawned warnings on Feb. 27,2010, but the waves were much smaller than predicted and did littledamage.

Scientists then acknowledged they overstated the threat butdefended their actions, saying they took the proper steps andlearned the lessons of the 2004 Indonesian tsunami that killedthousands of people who didn't get enough warning.

The warnings issued by the tsunami center covered an areastretching the entire western coast of the United States and Canadafrom the Mexican border to Chignik Bay in Alaska.

Many islands in the Pacific evacuated, but officials later toldresidents to go home because the waves weren't as bad as expected.

In Guam, the waves broke two U.S. Navy submarines from theirmoorings, but tug boats corralled the subs and brought them back totheir pier. No damage was reported to Navy ships in Hawaii.

In the Canadian pacific coast province of British Columbia,authorities evacuated marinas, beaches and other areas.

Large waves didn't materialize, and by noon coastal residentswere expected to be able to return home.

Latin American governments ordered islanders and coastalresidents to head for higher ground. Coastal officials from Mexicoto Chile were hauling boats from the sea, closing ports and schoolsand preparing to evacuate thousands of people ahead of thetsunami's expected arrival at 5 p.m. EST.

Heavy swells rolled through ports and marinas of Mexico's BajaCalifornia resort of Cab San Lucas, and the major Pacific cargoport of Manzanillo was closed. Several cargo ships and a cruiseship decided to wait out a possible tsunami at sea rather than riskpossible damage in a harbor.

The Honolulu International Airport remained open but seven oreight jets bound for Hawaii turned around, including someoriginating from Japan, the state Department of Transportationsaid. All harbors were closed and vessels were ordered to leave theharbor.

A small 4.5-magnitude earthquake struck the Big Island justbefore 5 a.m. EST, but there were no reports of damages and thequake likely wasn't related to the much larger one in Japan, theUSGS said.

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