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The Nation

March 12, 2011

Calif., Ore. sustained most damage from tsunami

CRESCENT CITY, Calif. — The warnings traveled quickly across the Pacific in the middle of the night: An 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Japan spawned a deadly tsunami, and it was racing east Friday as fast as a jetliner.

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.

The alerts moved faster than the waves, giving millions of people across the Pacific Rim hours to prepare.

In the end, harbors and marinas in California and Oregon bore the brunt of the damage, estimated by authorities to be in the millions of dollars.

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.

None of the damage — in the U.S., South America or Canada — was anything like the devastation in Japan.

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."

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.

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.

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