Tsunami causes slight tidal surge, no major problems locally

A sign advises beachgoers about the conditions at La Jolla Cove on Friday morning.  Photo: Kathy Day
A sign advises beachgoers about the conditions at La Jolla Cove on Friday morning. Photo: Kathy Day

City News Service

A tsunami advisory was in effect in the San Diego area Friday as a precaution in the aftermath of a devastating magnitude-8.9 earthquake in Japan, but as of late this morning, no major problems had been reported in San Diego.

Waves emanating to the southeast from the epicenter of the temblor — reportedly the fifth most powerful ever recorded — arrived in San Diego County shortly after 8:30 a.m., causing "significant tide fluctuations" in several areas, according to the National Weather Service.

The swells, which resulted in no immediate reports of injuries or property damage, caused the ocean to briefly rise 2.8 feet in La Jolla, 1.2 feet at San Diego Navy Pier and 2.6 feet in northern Imperial Beach, according to the Weather Service.

Earlier in the morning, the tsunami struck Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest, with no major problems reported.

The quake, believed to be the largest in Japanese history, struck northeast Japan at 9:45 p.m. San Diego time, destroying buildings 240 miles away in Tokyo and triggering a 30-foot tsunami that killed hundreds of people.

Thousands more were missing.

Crowds had gathered along La Jolla's shoreline Friday morning, waiting to see any evidence of a hazardous currents or unusual wave activity following the 8.9 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

At La Jolla Cove, spectators and media were lined up around the railings and the regular Friday morning swim group was chatting casually as they watched too around 8:30 a.m — one group had already been in the water.

Meanwhile, a lifeguard was listening to a "status update," reporting arrival of a surge near the state's border with Oregon. Nearby were two police motorcycles.

At one point, the water was noticeably calmer for a few minutes before small waves resumed and a harbor seal nearby jumped out of the water.

At Quivira Basin in Mission Bay, the water receded by roughly three feet about 9 a.m., said Maurice Luque, a spokesman for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department. The harbor was returning to its prior level a half-hour or so later.

"It's not disruptive," he said. "It's a very gentle flow of water. It's not knocking boats around on the docks or anything like that."

The U.S. Coast Guard prepared for any tsunami-related emergencies in the San Diego area by readying an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter, the cutter Haddock and three response boats.

Additionally, a crew from the federal maritime agency's local Incident Management Division was on duty to respond to any pollution that could result from vessel groundings.

The Coast Guard advised boaters to keep their vessels moored until the tsunami advisory is lifted and asked them to monitor VHF Channel 16 for any updates or additional alerts.

In Solana Beach, the ocean pulled back unusually far in the late morning, briefly expanding the width of the shoreline in the area, Solana Beach senior lifeguard Rob McPhee said.

"The average person probably wouldn't have noticed anything unusual, though," he said.

In other local coastal cities, including Encinitas and Del Mar, public-safety personnel noted no effects whatsoever from the tsunami activity.

"There's no reason to be alarmed — just be aware,'' Luque had advised earlier. "We don't expect any inundation of water."

Local surges from the tsunami were likely to be much less of a problem than what was seen during the rainstorms of the past couple of months, he added.

About a dozen extra lifeguards were called in, just in case, and 30 police officers were patrolling the San Diego coastline, officials said.

A man who identified himself only as Richard told KUSI he was not concerned about the warnings.

"Not at all — people are out, and there's been no warnings or anything, so I think it will be pretty mild,'' he told the news station. He added, however, that he would leave if hazard signs were posted.

Local quake-spawned ocean surges could last for 10-12 hours, producing strong currents potentially dangerous for surfers, swimmers, boaters and coastal structures, the weather service reported. Irregular stretches of coastline could increase wave heights in some areas, the agency advised.



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