Report: Thousands Ignored Tsunami Warnings in Japan

Thousands of Japanese ignored evacuation orders an earthquake triggered tsunami warnings, raising concerns among officials about future disaster management, major newspapers reported Sunday.

A magnitude 8.2 earthquake struck off northern Japan on Saturday, prompting tsunami warnings and sending thousands fleeing to higher ground but causing no reported injuries or damage. Thousands of others ignored the warnings.

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Japan's Meteorological Agency lifted all tsunami warnings by late Saturday, and local authorities lifted all evacuation orders for thousands of coastal residents.

Japan's main northern island of Hokkaido had earlier issued evacuation orders for 85,000 coastal residents in 22 towns due to fears of killer waves, said prefectural (state) official Koji Urano.

But only a fraction of them turned up at designated shelters, major newspapers including the Yomiuri and the Mainichi said Sunday.

In Abashiri City, less than 10 percent of the 9,400 residents used designated shelters, the Yomiuri said, quoting vice mayor Masanori Suzuki.

"I'm afraid many people are losing their guard against tsunami warnings," he said.

The town of Kushiro recorded the worst turnout of 0.25 percent of its 13,400 coastal residents, the Mainichi said. Many people apparently stayed home, monitoring the news of TV.

The reports blamed massive tsunami warnings in November in the region, which produced only small waves at a remote Pacific island hours later, for causing a "cry-wolf" effect.

The Meteorological Agency issues tsunami warnings even when only splashes are expected. Japan's populated coastlines are fitted with loudspeakers to order tsunami evacuations, and public broadcaster NHK immediately shuts off regular programs to serve as a disaster information channel.

That routine was implemented after a 1993 quake off Hokkaido generated a tsunami that hit a tiny nearby island. The waves and quake-triggered fires killed 200 people.

Saturday's quake occurred near the Kuril Trench, about 310 miles east of Etorofu island, the largest of a disputed four-island chain known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Kuril islands in Russia. It was about 19 miles below the seabed, the agency said.

The largest wave of 16 inches hit Chichi-jima, an island of 2,000 people about 1,000 kilometers 620 miles south of Tokyo, hours later. Small tidal swells were observed elsewhere.

No injuries or damage were reported from the offshore quake, said Hokkaido prefectural police spokesman Shinji Yamakoshi.

A tsunami warning was also issued for Alaska's western Aleutian islands and parts of the Philippines.

Tsunami waves -- generated by earthquakes -- are often barely noticeable in the ocean but can rise to great heights when they hit shore.

A 9.1-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Indonesia in December 2004, caused a tsunami that killed more than 230,000 people in 11 countries.

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