Californians scramble to reach friends, family after Japan earthquake

Sacramento BeeMarch 11, 2011 

Some minor effects from a possible tsunami have been reported along the California coast this morning, although thousands were evacuated from a handful of coastal counties as a precaution.

Ocean swells have begun to rise quickly in the last hour in some coastal areas, with Crescent City a hot spot, officials with the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center report at 8:30 a.m.

Crescent City harbor is seeing a three-foot sea level rise in the last hour, according to Cindi Preller, tsunami program manager at the center in Alaska.

"Our modeling still says it can go up to seven feet," Preller said.

That may not cause major problems, she said. "We have seen tsunamis there that do stay in the harbor."

Monterey and Arena Cove areas have seen a 2.5-foot sea level rise in the last hour, she said. But Preller said San Francisco "shouldn't see a whole lot of action."

Brad Alexander of the state Emergency Management Agency operations center said the California coast will experience rising water over a several-hour period this morning, but no huge waves.

"It is just going to look like a really high tide," Alexander said. "At first, it will pull back into the ocean, gathering itself, then you'll see a rise of three to six feet in some areas, based on what we saw (this morning) in Hawaii. It will build over a few hours, steadily swelling, varying by location."

Alexander said the tide will recede over time, but could not say how many hours that will take.

An earthquake with preliminary magnitude 8.9 occurred at 9:46 p.m. Pacific Standard time Thursday near the east coast of of Honshu, Japan. The estimated time of wave arrival of tsunami, a series of waves with dangerous potential that could be spawned by the very large earthquake in Japan, are varied for sites along the west coast of California but the big waves have already wreaked havoc near the temblor's origination.

Bee reporter Ed Fletcher reported from Okinawa that the drama played out on Japanese television. It was readily apparent the tsunami was much more damaging than the earthquake itself - pictures of goods fallen off store shelves turned to video of waves of fire and homes being washed away.

In Okinawa prefecture, the effects were much more subtle. Military commanders ordered all personnel to stay on base, dampening business at places like the troop-friendly One Way bar in Naha. A dozen locals enjoyed the evening despite the tragedy playing out further to the north. One patron's plane flight from Hong Kong to Tokyo was diverted to Okinawa.

Bartender Sayuri Maeda endured a difficult two hours waiting to get word from her brother, who lives in Tokyo.

"When I heard the news, I tried to call," Maeda said. But with the phone lines jammed she had to wait two hours to get through.

"I was really worried," Maeda said about her brother and his fiancée.

Sacramento resident Genevieve Shiroma, a member of the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board, is in Japan with the Japanese American Leadership Delegation, and was about to meet with the Japanese prime minister when the earthquake hit.

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