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Caution urged as Hawaii braces for quake-triggered tsunami

2010-02-28 08:01 BJT

Special Report: 8.8 Magnitude Earthquake Hits Chile |

HONOLULU, the United States, Feb. 27 (Xinhua) -- Authorities are urging extreme caution on Saturday as the U.S. state of Hawaii is bracing for a tsunami driven by a powerful earthquake in Chile.

Residents should remain alert and cautious, Acting Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said.

"They shouldn't relax," Caldwell said. "They should take this very seriously ... This is the ocean rising. It's going to be pushing things in front of it. It's going to be pushing people. It 's an extremely deadly situation."

People should prepare for the worst, but there was no need to panic, he said.

The state Civil Defense Department advised that residents should prepare an emergency plan to locate family members if they become separated, as well as an emergency supply kit well in advance of the tsunami's estimated arrival.

The Honolulu Board of Water Supply is asking all Oahu residents to conserve water.

Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle issued an emergency proclamation, saying one of the biggest issues is the concern that flooding could create long-term damage to pump stations in Honolulu and Maui.

She said officials were pondering whether to shut down the stations to avoid long-term damage.

As tsunami warnings were sounded and authorities urged residents to be on high alert, people in some areas were seen rushing to stores for last-minute shopping of supplies, stocking up on water, soda, toilet paper and large bags of pet food.

Some shops reported shortage of some commodities, particularly bottled water, and stores near the beaches are closed.

Parking lots at shopping centers were jammed and people were waiting in lines to check out.

Main roads leading to beaches and in inundation zones were closed and fewer cars were seen on streets in Honolulu. People in low-lying areas have moved to highlands, while hotels and buildings were evacuating visitors to third-floor levels.

Outside Honolulu, roads leading to highlands were packed with cars, making the traffic at a standstill.

But the situation remained generally calm. "I see no panic although people are preparing for the worst," said Liu Yanghui, a student from China at the University of Hawaii. "Life doesn't seem to change a lot. Tsunamis occur every now and then, so residents are not afraid."

Of Hawaii's eight islands, the southernmost Big Island will be the first to be hit by tsunami waves at about 11:05 a.m. local time, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. The waves are expected to be about 8 feet high.

Waves of about 39 inches will reach Oahu at 11:19 a.m..

The center warned that tsunami wave heights cannot be predicted and that the first wave may not be the biggest.

"Even a small rise in sea level can inundate a significant part of Hilo," said Nathan Becker, an oceanographer with the tsunami warning center. "Fortunately, Hilo is built into a slope; you can go uphill and get away from the shoreline. But all low-lying areas could be at risk."