TOKYO – Wide swaths of the south Pacific, Asia and Australia braced for a tsunami after a devastating earthquake hit the coast of Chile on Saturday.
Officials in Japan and Australia warned a tsunami from the earthquake was likely to hit Asian, Australian and New Zealand shores within 24 hours. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii issued a tsunami warning that included the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia, and many island nations in the Pacific. A lower-level advisory that a tsunami was possible was issued for northern Pacific locations, including the U.S. West Coast and Alaska.
"Sea-level readings confirm that a tsunami has been generated which could cause widespread damage," the center said in a bulletin after the magnitude-8.8 quake. "Authorities should take appropriate action to respond to this threat."
The center noted that the first waves after a quake are not necessarily the largest and said tsunami wave heights are difficult to predict because they can vary significantly along a coast due to the local topography.
Earthquakes across the Pacific have had deadly effects on Asia in the past.
A tsunami after a magnitude-9.5 quake that struck Chile in 1960, the largest earthquake ever recorded, killed about 140 people in Japan, 61 in Hawaii and 32 in the Philippines. That tsunami was about 3.3 to 13 feet in height, Japan's Meteorological Agency said.
The tsunami from Saturday's quake was likely to be much smaller because the quake itself was not as strong.
Japanese public broadcaster NHK quoted earthquake experts as saying the tsunami would likely be tens of inches high and reach Japan in about 22 hours. A tsunami of 11 inches was recorded after a magnitude-8.4 earthquake near Chile in 2001.
The Meteorological Agency said it was still investigating the likelihood of a tsunami from the magnitude-8.8 quake and did not issue a formal coastal warning.
Australia, meanwhile, was put on a tsunami watch.
The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Center issued a warning for a "potential tsunami threat" to New South Wales state, Queensland state, Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island. Any potential wave would not hit Australia until Sunday morning local time, it said.
The Philippine Institute of Vulcanology and Seismology issued a low-level alert saying people should await further notice of a possible tsunami. It did not recommend evacuations.
The earthquake that struck early Saturday in central Chile shook the capital for a minute and a half.