A tsunami advisory was issued for San Diego County, the California coast and other parts of the West Coast Friday after an 8.9 earthquake struck Japan, causing a 13-foot tsunami there that swept boats, cars, buildings and tons of debris miles inland.
The most significant incident in California was in Santa Cruz, where the tsunami-related surge damaged two docks and three boats. At around 8:10 a.m. PT, within seconds, the water dropped by about 9 feet, turning the harbor into a river. Water was sucked out to sea.
La Jolla witnessed a 4 foot increase in water levels, but it was very gentle, said San Diego Fire and Rescue spokesperson Maurice Luque.
In the Oceanside Harbor Marina, water raised a few inches and then dropped about 5 feet over 20 minutes, according to our media partners the North County Times.
Many locals who gathered along the coast said they were more concerned about the people of Japan. The Japan quake was about 50.1 times stronger than the earthquake that shook Mexicali last Easter.
At least 200 to 300 bodies have been found in the northeastern coastal area of Japan, and there were reports of injuries in Tokyo, over 200 miles from the quake's epicenter.
A tsunami warning was issued for San Diego County at 1:30 a.m. PT until 1:50 a.m. PT and included Hawaii and Mexico. As forecasters monitored information from modules in the Pacific Ocean, the Pacific Tsunami Center changed the warning to an advisory within an hour.
Public safety agencies in San Diego County took the advisory very seriously and implemented a coordinated tsunami plan, said Luque.
San Diego beaches and piers did not close. Instead, the city staffed about a dozen additional lifeguards and placed San Diego police officers along boardwalks and beach areas to advise people not to get into the water or stroll on the beach.
Despite the warnings, San Diegans still drove to the coast to see the event or take pictures. Some even tempting fate by surfing during the advisory.
San Diego's 911 system was jammed with calls about the tsunami advisory. Officials set up a special tsunami hot-line to answer questions -- 619-570-1070.
Geologist Pat Abbott said the county would get the tsunami seen in Japan, but not at such an intense level. "It’s not going to be anywhere as dramatic and powerful as what we’re seeing there," Abbott said in early morning interviews.
"If there’s anything that’s going to get harmed today, it will probably be boats moored in Mission Bay and San Diego Bay," Abbott said. "If I was living on one of those boats, I would sure get off it, and I’d rather watch it from the pier than be on the boat and find out powerful it is."
The San Onofre nuclear power plant was operating normally and being monitored by inspectors during the West Coast tsunami advisory, federal regulators said. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the nuclear plant is designed to withstand tsunamis and earthquakes.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department closed Malibu beach as a precaution. Newport Beach in Orange County was also closed.
The Ventura County Sheriff's Department said county beaches would be open but extra officers would be on patrol.
A tsunami is a series of long ocean waves. Each wave can last 5 to 15 minutes or more and extensively flood coastal areas. The danger can continue for many hours after the initial wave. Tsunami wave heights cannot be predicted and the first wave may not be the largest.
In Honolulu, sirens alerted people in coastal areas to evacuate Friday morning. A 6-foot surge was reported at Kahululi Harbor just after 7 a.m. PT, but no significant damage occurred. An all-clear has not been announced since tsunami waves can last for hours, according to MSNBC.
The U.S. Pacific Command reported all American military personnel in Japan had been accounted for, according to the Pentagon. Press secretary Geoff Morrell said there are no related reports of injuries to U.S. personnel or damage to U.S. installations or ships in the area.
U.S. Marines activated its Base Emergency Operations Center immediately after the quake, officials said. Marines Corps Bases Japan has evacuated residents living in low-lying areas on Camp Foster, lower Camp Lester, and Camp Kinser to an elevation of at least 30 feet as a precautionary measure, according to a news release.
At this time, III MEF Marines and sailors have not been directed to provide assistance.
Close to 40 aftershocks measuring 5.0 or above have been recorded since the quake struck Japan, according to U.S. Geological Services.
Graph below shows the difference between the predicted water level for La Jolla Friday morning and the observed water level.