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Tsunami warning center officials investigate bogus earthquake message

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The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center on Oahu said there is no tsunami threat in the Pacific after a “fabricated message was circulated” about a large earthquake in Japan and subsequent tsunami.

Officials said late this afternoon that they were investigating the bogus message, which came over a global circuit.

But they stressed that “there was no large earthquake in Japan … and there was no tsunami threat message issued by this center.”

The fake message was circulated at 4 p.m. or so on a global telecommunications system used by the World Meteorological Organization, which is headquartered in Geneva, said Chip McCreery, director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

McCreery said he notified the National Weather Service headquarters, and it will follow up with an investigation.

“There were a lot of clues that that’s not a real message,” he said. But he added, “It’s definitely concerning. We want to know how is it possible that a fake message got into the system,” used by meteorological agencies across the globe.

McCreery said some of the clues that it was bogus were the misspellings, and it only had a few parts of what would normally be sent out, so “it’s not a very smart spoof of what we would normally send out.”

The fake message said a magnitude 8.0 earthquake occurred in Japan near Nagaski, although the coordinates given were not that close to the city.

The message “caused a lot of fear at first,” said geophysicist Kanoa Koyanagi, who works at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

Because it gets redistributed, it has the potential to be more widely circulated, he said.

McCreery said the damage was fairly minimal.

“It didn’t seem to get to the public,” he said. “We didn’t get a lot of calls from our primary customers. They may have looked at it and known it was not real.”

It is unclear where the message originated from, but judging from the misspellings it was likely from abroad, and possibly from South America, Koyanagi said.

Japan was misspelled as Japon; north did not have an R in it, and Nagasaki was also misspelled, he said.

No one has come forward yet to claim responsibility, Koyanagi said.

Because the city was concerned, the Honolulu police were sent to investigate, Koyanagi said. However, no federal law enforcement agency was called.

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