Tsunami watch for Hawaii canceled after quake strikes off Philippines

Tsunami watch for Hawaii canceled after quake strikes off Philippines

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Most people in Hawaii were sleeping at 2:48 a.m. when the 7.6 quake struck off the Eastern coast of the Philippines. The event triggered a Tsunami alerts across several countries from the Philippines to Japan, the Northern Marianas to Hawaii as well.

Scientists at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach issued a Tsunami Watch at 2:57 a.m. and about 30 minutes later determined there was no threat to Hawaii.

"It's the first Tsunami Watch we've been under since last year's March earthquake and tsunami off Japan," said Pacific Tsunami Warning Center director Chip McCreery early Friday morning.

Though the cancellation for Hawaii was made officials also cautioned that "some coastal areas in Hawaii could experience small non-destructive sea level changes and strong or unusual currents lasting up to several hours starting around 12:30 p.m.  

The early tsunami alerts in the Pacific region sent panic into some who headed for higher ground right after alerts and warnings were issued.

"Determining the threat to Hawaii can sometimes take a couple of hours, said Pacific Tsunami Warning Center director Chip McCreery. "But in this case, the magnitude was so small, that when it dropped down to 7.6 then we knew Hawaii had no threat."

Preliminary data showed the temblor had a 7.9 magnitude and depth of about 20 miles undersea with an epicenter 58 miles east of Sulangan, Philippines. That's the same preliminary magnitude last year's devastating earthquake that hit off northeastern Japan, which was later upgraded to a 9.0 magnitude event.

That devastating quake generated a massive tsunami that killed 20,000 people and triggered the world's worst nuclear disaster in 25 years after waves battered a nuclear power station in Fukushima. The tsunami made its way to Hawaii causing some serious damage to boats on Oahu and property on the Kailua-Kona coast of the Big Island.

During the temporary Tsunami Watch today, the State Civil Defense activated, but they ramped down their operations shortly after the cancellation was issued at 3:31 a.m.

But a Tsunami Warning remained in place for another hour for Palau, Indonesia and the Philippines before the entire region was cleared.

Oceanographer Dailin Wong said the PTWC models accurately predicted about an inch rise in the sea level which was recorded at a deep sea buoy station to the northeast of the quake's epicenter. Based on that data, Wong estimates it took about 10 minutes for a very likely 3 foot tsunami to travel 60 miles toward the coastline.

As of this writing, there were no major damage reports in the Philippines as a result of the tsunami.

However, authorities say at least one person has died related to the quake. A 54 year old woman was killed in a landslide and her five year old grandson was hospitalized after their house collapse in the Cagayan de Oro province.

There were also reports of power outages in several cities, as well as damage to roads and bridges following the quake.

"I'm thankful that we didn't have an effect here in Hawaii," said McCreery. "But we always need to stay on our toes, because we don't have anyway to know in advance when something, a big earthquake can occur.

Wong says a place to watch for serious tsunami threats could come from a very powerful quake in our own seismic backyard or from the Aleutian islands off Alaska directly north of Hawaii, where any quake over 9.0 could cause some major tsunami problems for us and take only about four hours to get here.

In addition to the March 2011 Japan quake and tsunami, the pacific region's other major quake in the past decade was off Indonesia in 2004. At least 230,000 people were killed in 13 Indian Ocean countries.

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