Tiny tsunami hits small Japan island

A tiny tsunami hit a small island far south of Tokyo on Sunday after authorities warned that waves of more than 3 metres could batter Japan’s Pacific coast following a massive earthquake in Chile.

Officials have ordered about 245 000 households along Japan’s Pacific coast to evacuate after one of the world’s most powerful earthquakes in a century battered Chile on Saturday, killing more than 300 people.

A 10cm tsunami lapped the small island of Minamitori 1 950km south of Tokyo, NHK public TV reported.

Sirens wailed in coastal towns on Japan’s main islands and tens of thousands of people were urged to evacuate to higher ground after the Japan Meteorological agency issued the tsunami warning for a wide swathe of Japan’s Pacific coast.

It was the first warning for a major tsunami in 17 years and only the fourth since 1952, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

“Carelessness could be the biggest enemy. In the past, even if the waves were not so big, there has been great damage with two-metre high tsunami,” Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama told reporters.

Train services were halted in many areas along the Pacific coast and some highways were closed.

Police cars and fire trucks patrolled coastal roads and fishing boats, seeking to avoid any tsunami, headed out to sea under gray skies, with snow flurries in some areas.

The area that could be hit hardest, where about 140 people died in a previous tsunami 50 years ago, has many small harbours that could concentrate the force of a tsunami.

First wave might not be biggest
“The waves could climb up the land, so for real safety you should evacuate to a place several times higher than the predicted height of the waves,” JMA official Yasuo Sekita told a news conference.

The agency said the first wave might not be the biggest and that the warning could remain in effect for a long time.

Tohoku Electric Power said it would keep operating its Onagawa and Higashidori nuclear plants on the northern Pacific coast.

“Both facilities are high up enough and they are structured so that they would not be affected by a tsunami,” said Toshiya Aizawa, a spokesperson at Tohoku Electric Power.

TV footage showed elderly women with cloth-wrapped bundles on their backs gathering at evacuation centres as cars pulled up and other women unloaded shopping bags filled with belongings.

The tsunami warning covered the eastern seaboard of Japan, although for Tokyo Bay and many other areas the warnings were for waves of only around one metre, similar to that seen earlier in Hawaii and New Zealand.

In May 1960, a tsunami struck the coasts of Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido and other northern Pacific coastal areas after an earthquake in Chile, killing about 140 people.

Since then, many harbours have had sea gates installed to try to protect from tsunami and storms and authorities ordered these closed on Sunday.

“Coastal barriers have been built since the 1960 tsunami so we can’t simply compare the situation with that time but it is still crucial that people evacuate,’ said Masaaki Kubo of the Kamaishi Eastern Fishery Union in Iwate, in northern Honshu.

Bigger boats were heading out to sea ahead of the tsunami’s arrival but smaller boats were staying in the harbour, he said.

The manager of a diving shop in the Ogasawara island chain, southeast of Tokyo, told NHK television that he had advised a boatload of divers from his shop to return to land as soon as possible.

The same area has been struck by deadly tsunami in the past.

In 1896, a magnitude 8,5 Sanriku earthquake and tsunami left more than 22 000 dead in northeastern Japan. Another 8,1 temblor hit the same region in 1933, killing 3 064.

Japan’s tsunami warning system has been upgraded several times since its inception in 1952, including after a 7,8 magnitude quake in 1993 that almost instantly triggered a 30-metre wave before a warning could be given. About 190 of the 230 people killed in the quake were victims of the surging sea. – Reuters

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Covid-19: A case for why we all should wear homemade face masks

Countries that have mandated mask-wearing for people going out in public have shown a decrease in the rate of Covid-19 infections

Hindsight is 2020 for Japan

Tokyo has a history of cancelled Olympics – but a different type of war caused it to cancel in 1940

Develop the Advanced Manufacturing Institute to increase SA’s competitiveness

The institute should develop products that are applicable to different industries, such as 3D-imaging and self-driving cars

What would an Olympics cancellation cost Japan?

Japan has a diversified economy not heavily reliant on tourism. But with domestic spending already weak, the hit from a cancellation could ripple through and further depress local purchasing.

The time to care for older people

One man is pushing for a change to labour legislation that will allow workers to take paid time off to look after their parents

Two South Africans infected on coronavirus-hit Japanese cruise ship

Government was alerted that 12 South Africans were among the crew members on board the ship only at the end of their quarantine

Sekhukhune’s five-year battle for water back in court

The residents of five villages are calling for the district municipal manager to be arrested

Fees free fall, independent schools close

Parents have lost their jobs or had salaries cut; without state help the schools just can’t survive

Vaccine trial results due in December

If successful, it will then have to be manufactured and distributed

White men still rule and earn more

Women and black people occupy only a few seats at the JSE table, the latest PwC report has found

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday