Hawaii officials and residents breathed a sigh of relief upon the cancellation of a tsunami alert about three hours after it was first issued for the state Thursday morning following a powerful earthquake off the coast of New Zealand.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued the tsunami watch at about 9:40 a.m. and canceled it at 12:20 p.m. Thursday.
At about 9:30 a.m. Hawaii time, an 8.1 magnitude earthquake struck near the remote Kermadec Islands of New Zealand at a depth of 12 miles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
“Based on all available data a tsunami may have been generated by this earthquake that could be destructive on coastal areas even far from the epicenter,” the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said in the 9:40 a.m. bulletin. “An investigation is underway to determine if there is a tsunami threat to Hawaii. If tsunami waves impact Hawaii the estimated earliest arrival of the first tsunami wave is 4:35 p.m.”
A tsunami watch means that a distant tsunami is possible, and that residents should stay tuned for further information and be prepared to take action.
The powerful earthquake followed a magnitude 7.4 earthquake in the same region about 107 minutes earlier, which USGS said was likely a “foreshock.” That earlier earthquake did not pose a tsunami threat to Hawaii.
According to the Associated Press, the earthquake was widely felt in New Zealand, prompting thousands to evacuate, causing traffic jams and some chaos as people scrambled to get to higher ground. It also triggered alerts across the South Pacific.
USGS said the 8.1 magnitude quake occurred due to interaction between the Pacific and Australia tectonic plates, which is one of the “most seismically active tectonic environments in the world.”
The 8.1 magnitude earthquake Thursday surpassed the largest quake previously recorded in the region, a magnitude 8.0 in January 1976.
Gov. David Ige, along with county mayors, said during the watch that they were monitoring developments closely with the PTWC and National Weather Service.
Upon cancellation, Gov. Ige tweeted the update, adding that the incident “is a good reminder to stay vigilant and be prepared.”
Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said he and his team were closely monitoring the tsunami watch and was in contact with state and county emergency management agencies and emergency responders.
“This incident is a reminder that a natural disaster can happen at any moment and we must always stand at the ready,” said Blangiardi in a statement. “I urge the public to familiarize themselves with the tsunami inundation zone for the home and workplace and always be prepared.”
The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency recommends that residents check whether they live in an evacuation zone via its online maps or their local phone books, and sign up for their county’s emergency alerts.
As a precaution, Hawaii County at 2 p.m. Thursday closed West side beaches and beach parks — from Keokea Beach Park in North Kohala to Hookena Beach Park in South Kona, warning of potentially strong currents and rip tides.
The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources followed suit, closing all state parks in West Hawaii that have a beach or shoreline. DLNR also advised mariners with boats in Kona or North Hawaii, and at small boat harbors to take precautions and secure their vessels.
DLNR said normal hours and operations are expected to resume today.
>> The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency offers tsunami evacuation zone maps online (and in phone books) at dod.hawaii.gov/hiema/public-resources/tsunami-evacuation-zone
>> HI-EMA also advises Hawaii residents to sign up for emergency wireless alerts, available by county: >> Kauai Emergency Management Agency (Kauai County): countyofkauai.bbcportal.com
>> Department of Emergency Management (City and County of Honolulu): hnl.info/alerts
>> Maui Emergency Management Agency (Maui County): co.maui.hi.us/983
>> Civil Defense Agency (Hawaii County): hawaiicounty.gov/departments/civil-defense/ Note: Click on Active Civil Defense Alerts and Maps