SAN FRANCISCO/SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Tsunamis triggered by Japan’s devastating earthquake that prompted evacuations on the Pacific coast of North and South America caused flooding as far away as Chile Saturday, but damage was limited.
The tsunami lost much of its energy as it moved thousands of miles (km) across the Pacific Ocean, although governments took no chances and ordered large-scale evacuations of coastal areas, ports and refineries.
Despite the power of Japan’s biggest-ever quake and the tsunami from which the toll of dead or missing was expected to exceed 1,800, the tsunami waves were relatively benign as they rolled into the Americas, causing only isolated flooding, and fears of a catastrophe proved unfounded.
The tsunami swept past Chile’s remote Easter Island in the South Pacific, generating swells but no major waves. Wooden chalets on Chile’s northern coast were damaged and some small boats were swept away when the tsunamis intensified, local television footage showed.
The sea later flooded as far as 330 feet inland in Dichato and Talcahuano, 310 miles south of the capital, Santiago, and near the epicenter of the massive 8.8 magnitude quake that struck Chile in February 2010.
The government stopped residents from returning to their coastal homes until Saturday afternoon as a precaution.
But the damage appeared relatively mild and officials on Saturday reopened copper exporting ports that had been closed as a precautionary measure ahead of the tsunami and recalled large ships sent out to sea to avoid damage.
“The alert is now over. People can be confident the danger is over,” said government spokeswoman Ena Von Baer, adding fishermen should remain cautious because of swells and currents.
Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, a wildlife sanctuary and popular tourist spot, suffered some damage to infrastructure, and several harbors in California were hit.
Frank Boyle, president of Peru’s port authority, said the northern port of Paita and the southern ports of Ilo and Matarani were reopened.
Peru’s key central mining port of El Callao remained closed, as did the southern port of Pisco, where Reposl exports natural gas. Another mining terminal used by Shougang Hierro Peru was still out of action.
“The situation’s going to be evaluated and on the basis of that, we’ll gradually be reopening the ports,” Boyle told Reuters.
About 35 boats and most of the harbor docks were damaged in Crescent City near the California border with Oregon, where waves were more than 6 feet. Santa Cruz south of San Francisco sustained about $2 million in damages to docks and vessels, emergency management officials said.
A 25-year-old man was swept out to sea while standing on a sandbar at the mouth of the Klamath River in California.
The port of Brookings-Harbor, the busiest recreation port on the Oregon coast, was largely destroyed, said operations manager Chris Cantwell. “Right now we are in the middle of a big mess,” he said. “The surge pulled some (boats) out to sea, about a dozen sank and we’ve got boats everywhere sitting on top of one another and all over the place.”
In Hawaii, 3,800 miles from Japan, the Big Island of Hawaii sustained the most damage, with about 12 homes destroyed or badly damaged, a civil defense official said. Water rushed over the sea wall in Kailua-Kona on the big island, flooding a hotel and destroying some businesses. There was about $1 million damage to the Kailua-Kona pier.
On the island of Oahu, which was hit by four tsunami waves, a boat harbor suffered about $1 million in infrastructure damage when docks were torn away with vessels still attached.
Ecuador took extreme precautions after President Rafael Correa declared a state of emergency across the Andean nation on national television and urged residents to move inland.
Oil firm Petroecuador also halted production, but navy officials said Friday night the risk of danger had passed.
Mexico reopened its Pacific ports Saturday afternoon, including its oil-exporting port of Salinas Cruz in the southern state of Oaxaca, its main container port, Manzanillo, and the cruise ship harbor at Los Cabos, the government said.
Mexican officials said high waves had hit the northwestern Pacific coast but there were no reports of damage.
Reporting by Reuters correspondents in the Americas; Writing by Ross Colvin and Robin Emmott; Editing by Simon Gardner and Peter Cooney