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Tsunami hits lightly in Latin America

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    People looked out to sea from a hill Friday after a tsunami alert was issued on Chile's Easter Island.

LIMA, Peru » Ports and beaches were temporarily shut and islanders and coastal residents ordered to higher ground up and down Latin America’s Pacific seaboard before the tsunami surge triggered by the magnitude 8.9 earthquake in Japan. But it did little damage.

By the time the tsunami waves traveled across the wide Pacific Ocean and into the Southern Hemisphere, only slightly higher waters than normal came ashore in Mexico, Honduras, Colombia, Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, Chile’s Easter Island, and Peru and Chile’s mainlands.

Waves as high as 6 feet crashed into South America into early yesterday — in some cases sending water surging into streets — after coastal dwellers rushed to close ports and schools and evacuated several hundred thousand people.

Major evacuations were ordered in Ecuador and Chile, where hundreds of thousands of people moved out of low-lying coastal areas. After the devastating tsunami that Chile suffered following its major quake a year ago, authorities weren’t taking any chances.

Still, the danger waned as the day progressed and minimal damage was reported.

Heavy swells rolled through the port and marinas of the Baja California resort of Cabo San Lucas, rocking boats at anchor, but they did not top seawalls or bring any reports of damage.

Mexican officials closed the major cargo port of Manzanillo, and officials said some cargo ships and a cruise liner had decided to delay entering ports to avoid possible problems from any rough water. Classes were suspended at some low-lying schools in the resort city of Acapulco, and officials urged people to stay away from beaches.

On Chile’s Easter Island, in the remote South Pacific about 2,200 miles west of the capital of Santiago, residents and tourists moved to high ground, evacuating the only town, Hanga Roa.

But the tsunami rolled in at low tide Friday evening, causing no damage. Islanders watching the sea from higher ground could see nothing unusual, former Gov. Sergio Rapu said by telephone.

The minimal impact on Chile’s westernmost territory was welcome news for the South American mainland. By the time the tsunami swells reached coastal communities, they had long lost their punch.

In Peru, the Education Ministry closed schools for thousands of children in coastal areas, where 55 percent of the country’s 28 million people live. Authorities also closed beaches popular with tourists. Dozens evacuated their homes in flood-prone areas of Callao, the port adjacent to Lima, and the capital’s coastal highway was shut down..

But when the tsunami arrived, it topped out in Lima at 3 1/2 feet, said Luis Palomino, chief of Peru’s Civil Defense Institute.

Some of the strongest preventive action was taken by Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, who declared a state of emergency and ordered people on the Galapagos Islands and the coast of the mainland to seek higher ground.

He ordered schools closed and said the military would guard property.


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