Video: Tsunami waves reach West Coast

updated 6/28/2013 7:18:43 PM ET 2013-06-28T23:18:43

Key details

  • Man presumed dead after being swept away
  • Boats sink at harbors in Calif., Ore.
  • Flooding, damage in Hawaii

CRESCENT CITY, Calif. — The tsunami warnings moved faster than the waves, giving millions of people across the Pacific hours to flee to higher ground. Now they are left to clean up what the waves have wrought: Destroyed docks and damaged boats.

A deadly tsunami generated by an 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Japan raced across the Pacific on Friday and into marinas and harbors in Hawaii and on the West Coast, sending boats crashing into one another, carrying some out to sea and demolishing docks.

Video: Destruction hinders travel, relief efforts (on this page)

The damage — the most severe in two seaside towns along the Oregon-California border — was estimated to be in the millions.

Disaster at a glance

Sirens blared in Hawaii. The West Coast pulled back from the shoreline, fearing the worst. People were warned to stay away from the beaches. Fishermen took their boats out to sea and safety.

Boats crashed into each other, some vessels were pulled out to sea and docks were ripped out. Rescue crews searched hours for a man who was swept out to sea while taking pictures .

Still, there was relief that the destruction in the U.S. was nothing like that in Japan. The offshore quake pushed water onto land, sometimes miles inland, sweeping away boats, cars, homes and people. Hundreds are dead.

"With everything that could have happened and did happen in Japan, we're just thankful that nothing else happened," said Sabrina Skiles, whose beachfront house in Maui was left unscathed.

Video: California double-checks quake preps (on this page)

The warnings — the second major one for the region in a year — and the response showed how far the earthquake-prone Pacific Rim had come since a deadly tsunami caught much of Asia by surprise in 2004.

"That was a different era," said Gerard Fryer, a geophysicist with the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. "We got the warning out very quickly. It would not have been possible to do it that fast in 2004."

Destruction in Hawaii
Within 10 minutes after Japan was shaken by its biggest earthquake in recorded history, the center had issued its warning. The offshore quake pushed water onto land, sometimes miles inland, sweeping away boats, cars, homes and people. Hundreds are dead.

As the tsunami raced across the Pacific at 500 mph, the first sirens began sounding across Hawaii late Thursday night.

Story: Second nuclear meltdown likely under way in Japan, official says

Police went through the tourist mecca of Waikiki, warning of an approaching tsunami. Hotels moved tourists from lower floors to upper levels. Some tourists ended up spending the night in their cars.

Across the islands, people stocked up on bottled water, canned foods and toilet paper. Authorities opened buildings to people fleeing low-lying areas. Fishermen took their boats out to sea, away from harbors and marinas where the waves would be most intense.

Residents did the same last February, when an 8.8-magnitude quake in Chile prompted tsunami warnings. The waves did little damage then.

Early Friday, the tsunami waves reached Hawaii, tossing boats in Honolulu. The water covered beachfront roads and rushed into hotels on the Big Island. The waves carried a house out to sea. Seven-foot waves flooded low-lying areas in Maui.

As the sun rose, people breathed a sigh of relief.

"With everything that could have happened and did happen in Japan, we're just thankful that nothing else happened," said Sabrina Skiles, who along with her husband spent a sleepless night at his office in Maui. Their beachfront house was unscathed.

Interactive: How a tsunami forms (on this page)

Many other Pacific islands also evacuated their shorelines for a time. In Guam, the waves broke two U.S. Navy submarines from their moorings, but tug boats brought them back to their pier.

In Oregon, the first swells to hit the U.S. mainland were barely noticeable.

Sirens pierced the air in Seaside, a popular tourist town near the Washington state line. Restaurants, gift shops and other beachfront businesses stayed shuttered.

People along coastlines from Washington to California fled to higher ground at the approach of the waves, waiting until the all-clear before returning.

Port in 'disarray'
Albert Wood said he and his wife decided to leave their home late Thursday night after watching news about the Japan quake — the fifth-largest earthquake since 1900.

Wood was expecting the waves to get bigger and more intense than what he saw. Still, he shook his head as the cars lining the hills began to drive west, into the lowlands adjacent to the shore.

"Just if you ask me, they're being too bold," Wood said. "It's still early. They're just not being cautious."

Erik Bergman was back at the shore by 9:30 in the morning. Roughly 100 feet away was a man playing with his dog. Two small children chased seagulls.

"People aren't too nervous," Bergman said.

Image: A loose boat slams into another in the boat basin at Crescent City, Calif.
JEFF BARNARD  /  AP
Driven by the force of a tsunami surge, a loose boat slams into another in the boat basin at Crescent City, Calif., on Friday.

President Barack Obama said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was ready to come to the aid of any U.S. state or territory that needed help. Coast Guard cutters and aircraft were readied to respond as soon as conditions allowed.

Outside Brookings, Ore., just north of the California border, four people went to a beach to watch the waves and were swept into the sea. Two got out on their own, and the others were rescued, authorities said.

Brookings harbor saw the worst reported damage in the state with half the facility destroyed and 10 boats sunk, Curry County Sheriff John Bishop said.

"The port is in total disarray," he said.

Video: American worries about former students in Japan (on this page)

In Crescent City, Calif., miles to the south, the Coast Guard suspended their hours-long search at dark for a man who was swept out to sea. He was taking photos near the mouth of the Klamath River. Two people with him jumped in to rescue him. They were able to get back to land, authorities said.

Sheriff's deputies went door to door at dawn to urge residents to seek higher ground.

An 8-foot wave rushed into the harbor, destroying about 35 boats and ripping chunks off the wooden docks, as marina workers and fishermen scrambled between surges to secure property. Officials estimated millions of dollars in damage.

When the water returned, someone would yell "Here comes another one!" to clear the area.

Surf's up
Ted Scott, a retired mill worker who lived in the city when a 1964 tsunami killed 17 people on the West Coast, including 11 in Crescent City, watched the water pour into the harbor.

"This is just devastating. I never thought I'd see this again," he said. "I watched the docks bust apart. It buckled like a graham cracker."

The waves, however, had not made it over a 20-foot break wall protecting the rest of the city. No serious injuries were immediately reported.

On the central coast in Santa Cruz, loose fishing boats crashed into one another and docks broke away from the shore. The water rushed out as quickly as it poured in, leaving the boats tipped over in mud.

Video: American in Japan recalls intensity of quake (on this page)

Some surfers ignored evacuation warnings before they were lifted and took advantage of the waves ahead of the tsunami.

"The tides are right, the swell is good, the weather is good, the tsunami is there," said William Hill, an off-duty California trooper. "We're going out."

Scientists warned that the first tsunami waves are not always the strongest. The threat can last for several hours and people should watch out for strong currents.

U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Ken Hudnut said residents along the coast should heed any calls for evacuation.

"Do the right thing," Hudnut said. "Be safe."

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Map: Japan earthquake

Explainer: The 10 deadliest earthquakes in recorded history

  • A look at the worst earthquakes in recorded history, in loss of human life. (The March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsumani that affected eastern Japan is not included because the fatalities caused, about 15,000, are fewer than those resulting from the temblors listed below.) Sources: United States Geological Survey, Encyclopedia Britannica

  • 1: Shensi, China, Jan. 23, 1556

    Magnitude about 8, about 830,000 deaths.

    This earthquake occurred in the Shaanxi province (formerly Shensi), China, about 50 miles east-northeast of Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi. More than 830,000 people are estimated to have been killed. Damage extended as far away as about 270 miles northeast of the epicenter, with reports as far as Liuyang in Hunan, more than 500 miles away. Geological effects reported with this earthquake included ground fissures, uplift, subsidence, liquefaction and landslides. Most towns in the damage area reported city walls collapsed, most to all houses collapsed and many of the towns reported ground fissures with water gushing out.

  • 2: Tangshan, China, July 27, 1976

    Chinese Earthquake
    Keystone  /  Getty Images
    1976: Workers start rebuilding work following earthquake damage in the Chinese city of Tangshan, 100 miles east of Pekin, with a wrecked train carriage behind them. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
    Magnitude 7.5. Official casualty figure is 255,000 deaths. Estimated death toll as high as 655,000.

    Damage extended as far as Beijing. This is probably the greatest death toll from an earthquake in the last four centuries, and the second greatest in recorded history.

  • 3: Aleppo, Syria, Aug. 9, 1138

    Magnitude not known, about 230,000 deaths.

    Contemporary accounts said the walls of Syria’s second-largest city crumbled and rocks cascaded into the streets. Aleppo’s citadel collapsed, killing hundreds of residents. Although Aleppo was the largest community affected by the earthquake, it likely did not suffer the worst of the damage. European Crusaders had constructed a citadel at nearby Harim, which was leveled by the quake. A Muslim fort at Al-Atarib was destroyed as well, and several smaller towns and manned forts were reduced to rubble. The quake was said to have been felt as far away as Damascus, about 220 miles to the south. The Aleppo earthquake was the first of several occurring between 1138 and 1139 that devastated areas in northern Syria and western Turkey.

  • 4: Sumatra, Indonesia, Dec. 26, 2004

    Aerial images show the extent of the devastation in Meulaboh
    Getty Images  /  Getty Images
    MEULABOH, INDONESIA - DECEMBER 29: In this handout photo taken from a print via the Indonesian Air Force, the scene of devastation in Meulaboh, the town closest to the Sunday's earthquake epicentre, is pictured from the air on December 29, 2004, Meulaboh, Aceh Province, Sumatra, Indonesia. The western coastal town in Aceh Province, only 60 kilometres north-east of the epicentre, has been the hardest hit by sunday's underwater earthquake in the Indian Ocean. Officials expected to find at least 10,000 killed which would amount to a quarter of Meulaboh's population. Three-quarters of Sumatra's western coast was destroyed and some towns were totally wiped out after the tsunamis that followed the earthquake. (Photo by Indonesian Air Force via Getty Images)

    Magnitude 9.1, 227,898 deaths.

    This was the third largest earthquake in the world since 1900 and the largest since the 1964 Prince William Sound, Alaska temblor. In total, 227,898 people were killed or were missing and presumed dead and about 1.7 million people were displaced by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 14 countries in South Asia and East Africa. (In January 2005, the death toll was 286,000. In April 2005, Indonesia reduced its estimate for the number missing by over 50,000.)

  • 5: Haiti, Jan 12, 2010

    Haitians walk through collapsed building
    Jean-philippe Ksiazek  /  AFP/Getty Images
    Haitians walk through collapsed buildings near the iron market in Port-au-Prince on January 31, 2010. Quake-hit Haiti will need at least a decade of painstaking reconstruction, aid chiefs and donor nations warned, as homeless, scarred survivors struggled today to rebuild their lives. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK (Photo credit should read JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK/AFP/Getty Images)

    Magnitude 7.0. According to official estimates, 222,570 people killed.

    According to official estimates, 300,000 were also injured, 1.3 million displaced, 97,294 houses destroyed and 188,383 damaged in the Port-au-Prince area and in much of southern Haiti. This includes at least 4 people killed by a local tsunami in the Petit Paradis area near Leogane. Tsunami waves were also reported at Jacmel, Les Cayes, Petit Goave, Leogane, Luly and Anse a Galets.

  • 6: Damghan, Iran, Dec. 22, 856

    Magnitude not known, about 200,000 deaths.

    This earthquake struck a 200-mile stretch of northeast Iran, with the epicenter directly below the city of Demghan, which was at that point the capital city. Most of the city was destroyed as well as the neighboring areas. Approximately 200,000 people were killed.

  • 7: Haiyuan, Ningxia , China, Dec. 16, 1920

    7.8 magnitude, about 200,000 deaths.

    This earthquake brought total destruction to the Lijunbu-Haiyuan-Ganyanchi area. Over 73,000 people were killed in Haiyuan County. A landslide buried the village of Sujiahe in Xiji County. More than 30,000 people were killed in Guyuan County. Nearly all the houses collapsed in the cities of Longde and Huining. About 125 miles of surface faulting was seen from Lijunbu through Ganyanchi to Jingtai. There were large numbers of landslides and ground cracks throughout the epicentral area. Some rivers were dammed, others changed course.

  • 8: Ardabil, Iran, March. 23, 893

    Magnitude not known, about 150,000 deaths

    The memories of the massive Damghan earthquake (see above) had barely faded when only 37 years later, Iran was again hit by a huge earthquake. This time it cost 150,000 lives and destroyed the largest city in the northwestern section of the country. The area was again hit by a fatal earthquake in 1997.

  • 9: Kanto, Japan, Sept. 1, 1923

    Kanto Damage
    Hulton Archive  /  Getty Images
    1923: High-angle view of earthquake and fire damage on Hongokucho Street and the Kanda District, taken from the Yamaguchi Bank building after the Kanto earthquake, Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
    7.9 magnitude, 142,800 deaths.

    This earthquake brought extreme destruction in the Tokyo-Yokohama area, both from the temblor and subsequent firestorms, which burned about 381,000 of the more than 694,000 houses that were partially or completely destroyed. Although often known as the Great Tokyo Earthquake (or the Great Tokyo Fire), the damage was most severe in Yokohama. Nearly 6 feet of permanent uplift was observed on the north shore of Sagami Bay and horizontal displacements of as much as 15 feet were measured on the Boso Peninsula.

  • 10: Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, Oct. 5, 1948

    7.3 magnitude, 110,000 deaths.

    This quake brought extreme damage in Ashgabat (Ashkhabad) and nearby villages, where almost all the brick buildings collapsed, concrete structures were heavily damaged and freight trains were derailed. Damage and casualties also occurred in the Darreh Gaz area in neighboring Iran. Surface rupture was observed both northwest and southeast of Ashgabat. Many sources list the casualty total at 10,000, but a news release from the newly independent government on Dec. 9, 1988, advised that the correct death toll was 110,000. (Turkmenistan had been part of the Soviet Union, which tended to downplay the death tolls from man-made and natural disasters.)

Photos: After Japan's earthquake and tsunami - week 8

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  1. A radiation measuring instrument is seen next to some residents in Kawauchimura, a village within the 12- to 18-mile zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, on April 28. Most residents of Kawauchimura have evacuated in order to avoid the radiation, but some remain in the area of their own accord. (Koichi Kamoshida / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A brazier heats the house of Masahiro Kazami, located within a 12-mile radius of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, April 28. (Koichi Kamoshida / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Volunteers help clean a cemetery at Jionin temple in Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture, northeastern Japan, on April 29. Many volunteers poured into the disaster-hit region at the beginning of the annual Golden Week holiday. (Hiro Komae / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Japanese government adviser Toshiso Kosako is overcome with emotion during a news conference on April 29 in Tokyo announcing his resignation. The expert on radiation exposure said he could not stay on the job and allow the government to set what he called improper radiation limits for elementary schools in areas near the tsunami-damaged Fukushima nuclear plant. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Fuel rods are seen inside the spent fuel pool of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant reactor 4 on April 30. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A volunteer girl from Tokyo works to clean the debris of a house in Higashimatsushima, northern Japan, on April 30. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Farmer Tsugio Sato tends to his Japanese pear trees in Fukushima city, May 1. He said he expects to harvest the pears in October. Farmers and businesses face so-called "fuhyo higai," or damages stemming from the battered reputation of the Fukushima brand. (Hiro Komae / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Members of Japan Ground Self-Defense Force in protective gear receive radiation screening in Minamisoma in Fukushima prefecture, after searching for bodies at an area devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Ruriko Sakuma, daughter of dairy farmer Shinji Sakuma, rubs a cow at their farm in the village of Katsurao in Fukushima prefecture on May 3. Thousands of farm animals died of hunger in the weeks following the quake. (Yoshikazu Tsuno / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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