Tsunami Hits West Coast, Mexico Without Incident as Latin American Awaits Waves

The tsunami unleashed by a monster earthquake in Japan hit the West Coast of the United States and Mexico Friday without major incident – as the waves continued racing toward Ecuador, Chile and parts of Latin America.

Even as officials at every level braced for the worst, California and other western states appeared to weather the waves that crashed into the shoreline. 

The tsunami, triggered by a 8.9-magnitude earthquake that rocked Japan, continued its eastward path toward several Latin American countries later on Friday.

San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Crescent City, among other areas in California and the West Coast, braced for the incoming tsunami by closing its beaches and manning lifeguards. Sirens sounded for hours before dawn up and roadways and beaches were mostly empty as the tsunami struck. 

By midmorning, waves were crashing against the 30-foot bluffs in Crescent City, Calif., where a tsunami killed 11 people in 1964. Dozens of boats were damaged as surging water knocked them from their docks, both in Crescent City and on California's central coast in Santa Cruz, where loose fishing boats crashed into one another and chunks of wooden docks broke off.

There were reported deaths or major damage by Friday afternoon.

In Japan, the devastation left hundreds dead and parts of the country in flooded ruins. According to reports, there are still some 88,000 people missing.

President Obama on Friday morning offered condolences to the people of Japan.

"The United States stands ready to help the Japanese people in this time of great trial," he said. "The friendship and alliance between our two nations is unshakeable, and only strengthens our resolve to stand with the people of Japan as they over come this tragedy."

Obama also said U.S. states were making the necessary preparations for its aftermath.

"We will continue to closely monitor tsunamis around Japan and the Pacific going forward and we are asking all our citizens in the affected region to listen to their state and local officials as I have instructed FEMA to be ready to assist Hawaii and the rest of the U.S. states and territories that could be affected," he added.

In Mexico, Navy spokesman José Luis Vergara says Pacific monitoring stations off the coast have detected swells of about two feet. Experts had expected six feet waves.

He said "given the height...we won't be affected much."

Still, Vergara said even though the outlook was "positive as far as we can see...we cannot let our guard down."

Latin America, meanwhile, was still in the tsunami's path.

Ecuador issued a state of emergency. President Rafael Correa said people should, particularly residents in Galápagos, should evacuate and find refuge in higher terrain. 

"Your interests will be protected...," he said, The Associated Press reported.

The police commander said nearly 13,000 officers were dispatched to help with the evacuation.

Chile, too, was scrambling to prepare for the incoming tsunami. Pascua, an island near the capital, could be the first area hit by the dangerous waves.

Chile has been rocked by earthquakes twice in a little more than a year.

In Colombia and Central America, officials were closing ports and schools, among other precautions.  

Friday's earthquake is the fifth strongest since 1900. In May 1960, Chile was hit with the strongest earthquake – it registered 9.5 on the Richter scale – in the last century.

More than 1,700 people were killed and the city's downtown was destroyed.

In 1946, a tsunami caused by a 8.1 earthquake near Alaska killed 165 people, mostly in Hawaii.

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