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Tsunami causes damage on French Polynesia islands

February 28, 2010 4:28am
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A tsunami that crossed the Pacific Ocean hit islands in French Polynesia early Sunday, with waves of about 6 feet (two meters) damaging part of the coast.

Nations around the Asia-Pacific region evacuated coastal areas and warned residents as the tsunami generated by a devastating Chile earthquake approached their shores.

Emergency officials reported a 20-inch (50 centimeter) wave has hit Chatham Islands — the third to come ashore in the islands some 312 miles (500 kilometers) east of New Zealand.

"As the scientists have predicted, the waves are increasing in amplitude ... and it's likely they will grow more," Civil Defense national controller Allan Walker said.

National Radio in New Zealand reported four waves of about 6 feet (two meters) hit the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia early Sunday, causing damage to coastal areas and to boats. The first wave passed Tahiti with no effects.

Asia-Pacific nations evacuated coasts ahead of the tsunami generated by a devastating earthquake in Chile.

In Samoa, where 183 people died in a tsunami in September, police said most people were moved out of low-lying areas by 6 a.m. local (1800 GMT Saturday). The waves are expected there about 8 a.m. (2000 GMT Saturday).

In Samoa, a degree of panic was evident as people evacuated the coastal areas where the September tsunami hit. Broadcasts and text messages alerted people in the early morning.

"The evacuation is going pretty well, with most people in higher ground already," on the main island of Upolu, police spokesman Tavita Moeono said.

Scores of residents, along with 40 guests and tourists at Chatham Islands' main hotel in the town of Waitangi, earlier evacuated to higher ground ahead of the waves, forecast to reach up to 10 feet (three meters) during the day.

Emergency officials said similar height waves could hit Banks Peninsula on New Zealand's South Island. The east coast of both of New Zealand's main islands has been warned to expect waves up to three feet (one meter) from the tsunami over the next few hours.

In Fiji, people in coastal towns and villages have been evacuated. Police and emergency services are on alert for waves of between 1.9 and 7.5 feet (0.6 - 2.3 meters) on the northern and eastern islands of the archipelago about 9:20 a.m. local time Sunday (2120 GMT Saturday).

Disaster management office duty officer Anthony Blake said coastal evacuations had taken place on Vanua Levu, Fiji's second biggest island, and in the Lau and Lomaiviti island groups.

About a third of Fiji's 800,000 people live in those areas, Blake said.

Cook Islands police issued an all-clear mid-morning Sunday after the tsunami caused a minor tidal surge of a few centimeters.—AP