TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan warned on Sunday that its northern Pacific coast faced a possible tsunami of 3 meters (10 ft) or more and ordered thousands of coastal residents to evacuate to higher ground, after a massive earthquake in Chile.
The tsunami could hit northern areas of Japan's main island of Honshu around 1 p.m. (11 p.m. EST), the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) said.
The affected coast, where around 140 people died in a previous tsunami 50 years ago, has many small harbors that will concentrate the force of a tsunami.
"The waves could climb up the land, so for real safety you should evacuate to a place several times higher than the predicted height of the waves," JMA official Yasuo Sekita told a news conference.
The tsunami was racing across the Pacific after one of the world's most powerful earthquakes in a century struck Chile on Saturday, killing more than 300 people.
The tsunami warning covered the eastern seaboard of Japan, although for Tokyo Bay and many other areas the warnings were for waves of only around one meter (3 ft), similar to that seen earlier in Hawaii and New Zealand.
The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center lifted its widespread warning for most of the Pacific basin, but it remained in effect for Japan and Russia.
The Philippines ordered a limited evacuation along its eastern seaboard and warned of waves about a meter high.
In May 1960, a tsunami struck the coasts of Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido and other northern Pacific coastal areas after an earthquake in Chile, killing around 140 people.
Since then, many harbors have had sea gates installed to try to protect from tsunami and storms and authorities ordered these closed on Sunday.
"Coastal barriers have been built since the 1960 tsunami so we can't simply compare the situation with that time but it is still crucial that people evacuate," said Masaaki Kubo of the Kamaishi Eastern Fishery Union in Iwate, in northern Honshu.
Bigger boats were heading out to sea ahead of the tsunami's arrival but smaller boats were staying in the harbor, he said.
The manager of a dive shop in the Ogasawara island chain, southeast of Tokyo, told NHK television that he had advised a boatload of divers from his shop to return to land as soon as possible.
(Reporting by Yoko Kubota, Linda Sieg and Elaine Lies; Editing by Rodney Joyce and Alex Richardson)