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Tsunami watch canceled but officials say stay out of the water today


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POSTED: Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center has canceled the tsunami watch for Hawaii.

The 8.3 magnitude earthquake off American Samoa did not generate a tsunami that will affect Hawaii, officials said. The tsunami watch, which was issued at 8:05 a.m., was canceled at 10:23 a.m.

 

However, state Civil Defense officials warn, coastal areas in Hawaii could experience sea-level changes and or unusual currents lasting up to several hours.

 

 Because of possible strong currents and unusual wave action, state and county officials will be going to beaches to warn swimmers to stay out of the water between 12:30 p.m. and 7;30 p.m. Civil defense officials reversed an initial decision to close beach parks this afternoon and evening.

 

“We are asking for the kokua of all of our residents and visitors to keep out of the water and away from the beaches and river mouths,” Mayor Mufi Hannemann said. “These precautionary measures are being implemented to keep everyone safe.”

 

Ray Lovell, state civil defense spokesman, said Hawaii will be under a tsunami advisory until 7 p.m. State harbor officials and city emergency management officials, whose lifeguards patrol Oahu beaches, have been alerted to note unusual wave and current movement.

 

“The watch is canceled, which is good news,” said Russell Pang, chief of media relations for Gov. Linda Lingle. “The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center is still monitoring to see if there’s unusual or dangerous currents.” 

 

State Civil Defense had activated its Emergency Operations Center and stayed in touch with the counties’ civil defense agencies, he said. 

 

Pang said he had been in touch with the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Department of Transportation, whose officials also had been monitoring the situation.

 

 As a precaution, Kamehameha Schools closed its Honaunau School in west Hawaii and its preschool on Molokai. School officials said their proximity to the shoreline prompted the closure. Other preschools and schools operated by Kamehameha Schools remain open.

 

Starting with its 8:05 a.m. bulletin, the warning center alerted residents that a tsunami was possible after 1 p.m. for the Hawaiian islands.

 

The epicenter of the quake was 120 miles southwest of the remote Pacific island. It struck at 7:48 a.m. Hawaii time at a depth of 20.5 miles. It was initially reported as a magnitude 7.9 but later upgraded to 8.3.

 

An earthquake of this magnitude is capable of causing a tsunami.

 

 Hawaii State Civil Defense said a tsunami watch means that there is a possibility of a damaging wave hitting Hawaii. The next step would have been a tsunami warning which calls for the evacuation of coastal areas.

 

The emergency operating center in Diamond Head crater was activated with Maj. Gen. Bob Lee, head of state civil defense, monitoring the situation with his staff.

 

A tsunami warning was in effect for American Samoa, Samoa, Niue Island, the Wallis and Futuna Islands, the Tokelau atolls, the Cook Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Kermadec Islands, the Baker and Howland Islands, Jarvis Island, French Polynesia and the Palmyra Islands.

 

A 5-foot tsunami was reported at Pago Pago, American Samoa, the U.S. Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said. Homes in some villages on the southern coast of the Samoan island of Upolu were washed away, Radio New Zealand reported.