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Japan Lifts All Warnings, Advisories for Tsunami

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All tsunami warnings and advisories across Japan were completely lifted late Monday morning, following the warning status being downgraded to the level of "advisory" in the early hours of the morning.

At 10:15 AM (0115 GMT), Japan's Meteorological Agency lifted all of its advisories that were in place for the entire pacific coast of Japan throughout Sunday evening and Monday morning.

Japan's pacific coastline was hit by a number of tsunamis on Sunday, with government officials overseeing the evacuation of 522, 000 people from 10 prefectures, but no deaths or injuries have been reported following the series of waves that were considerably smaller than the worst-case-scenario predictions.

On Sunday morning, the weather agency issued its first "major tsunami" warning in Japan in more than 15 years, about 18 hours after the 8.8-magnitude quake hit the Chilean city of Concepcion.

The major tsunami warning, with the agency forecasting that tidal waves of 3 meters or higher were possible, applied to the northern Pacific coastal areas of Aomori, Iwate and Miyagi prefectures and officials advised more than 300,000 people to stay away from the coast before the arrival of tsunamis there in separate waves beginning after 2:00 PM Sunday.

Following the initial warning, officials warned that a second round of stronger waves could still yet hit the island Sunday night and urged more than 600,000 people in vulnerable areas to stay away from their homes awhile longer.

The agency said it observed a 1.2-meter-high tsunami at 3:49 PM at Kuji port in Iwate while the town office of Otsuchi in the same prefecture reported a tsunami of about 1.45 meters at a fishing port around 3:43 PM.

Tsunamis between 1 meters and 1.2 meters high were also observed in northern, western and southern parts of Japan.

As of 6:30 PM local time, the largest wave reported to have hit Japan was about 1.45 meters -- considerably smaller than the three meters included in earlier warnings.

Japanese television on Monday morning showed images of minor flooding in parts of Hokkaido as the water rose above the piers onto a nearby parking lot and to the base of shacks along the coast.

Families in Miyagi prefecture were shown on a number of local and international news channels huddled into an evacuation center as emergency workers propped up a television on a folding chair.

In Miyagi prefecture, one resident told Japan's national public broadcaster Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK): "A tsunami is really scary and that's why my family has evacuated as quickly as possible. I'm very concerned about what is going to happen from now."

"Please don't go near the coastline until the tsunami warning has been called off even if the first wave appears small," Yasuo Sekita, head of earthquake and tsunami section of the Japan Meteorological Agency said in a late-afternoon briefing on Sunday. "There is still a chance of a big tsunami coming ahead," he added. "If we look at the historical evidence, it might take several more hours."

Officials were referring to, among other examples, the tsunami of May 1960, which was also triggered by an earthquake in Chile.

At that time, an initial tsunami was small, followed later by a larger one that struck the coasts of Hokkaido and the Sanriku region. In that incident, 140 people were killed or missing.

Seismologists indicated on Sunday that the tsunami should decelerate as it approaches the Japan coast, due to shallower depth of the ocean around the coast, the speed still could be fast enough to catch running people, however, they warned.

The Chile quake came about 12 hours after a major quake hit the southern Japanese island of Okinawa. That quake, which hit Saturday morning, had a magnitude of 6.9 and caused tidal waves of up to 10 centimeters. The quake caused only minor injuries and prompted its own tsunami warning, which was later called off.

The agency last issued a major tsunami warning in July 1993 when a 7.8-magnitude quake hit Okushiri Island, Hokkaido.

Sunday's tsunamis temporarily suspended services on dozens of railway lines, including East Japan Railway's Keiyo line, which connects Tokyo and the coastal area of Chiba prefecture, and closed some sections of expressways, including the Aqualine linking Kanagawa and Chiba prefectures across Tokyo Bay.

The central government's liaison office, set up on Saturday evening at Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's office, on Monday lauded the local municipalities and the public for fast moving emergency communication, for heeding the initial warnings and for acting so swiftly, particularly in the "red zones" of Aomori, Iwate and Miyagi prefectures.

(Xinhua News Agency March 1, 2010)

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