published Friday, March 11th, 2011

Oregon coastal residents clear out ahead of tsunami

  • photo
    Car headlights from a steady stream of cars form a line as residents evacuate the coastal town of Seaside, Ore., Friday, March, 11, 2011. Tsunami warnings were issued as a result of an earthquake in Japan. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

NIGEL DUARA, Associated Press

SEASIDE, Ore. — Sirens blared in communities along the Oregon coast before dawn Friday, sending people to higher ground as tsunami waves generated by a massive earthquake in Japan rolled across the Pacific.

By noon, coastal residents were expected to be able to return home.

Little damage was reported. The waves came at low tide, which meant the additional volume of water rolling across the sea from Japan was piled on a lower floor than would have been the case at high tide.

"We lucked out," said National Weather Service meteorologist Jeremiah Pyle.

The first swelling to hit the U.S. mainland was noticed in Port Orford.

The city administrator there, Mike Murphy, said the water surged back and forth between the levels for high and low tide.

Rockne Berge of the Castaway by the Sea Motel said he saw a band of wet sand 40 yards to 50 yards wide, evidence of high water.

"It's extremely subtle," he said. His motel sits about 130 feet above the beach on a bluff.

The National Weather Service said waves reached 3.7 feet above normal sea levels at Port Orford, the largest measured along the Oregon coast. To the north, at Charleston near Coos Bay, the waves were measured at 1.8 feet above the normal sea level.

Observations from the service's network of buoys were generally lower than estimates, said meteorologist Jeremiah Pyle.

Late in the morning, Gov. John Kitzhaber said state emergency managers would watch for any late surges on the coast but Oregon appeared to have escaped any serious problems.

Up and down the coast, residents near the beach sought higher ground after sirens sounded.

Albert Wood, of Seaside, said he and his wife left after watching news about the Japan quake.

"Just before midnight, we decided to pack up and head to higher ground," he said.

They were among dozens of Seaside residents who drove into a hilly area overlooking the tourist town to wait it out.

Earlier Friday, there were streams of eastbound traffic on some roads near the coast as residents fled low areas, and long lines were reported at some gas stations.

Coastal communities had been bracing for waves of up to 6 feet. Nothing that large had been reported by midmorning.

Schools up and down the coast were closed, and Kitzhaber urged Oregonians to heed the tsunami alarms and follow instructions from officials.

Kitzhaber added, "Our thoughts are with the people of Japan."

Emergency management officials have been up all night making preparations after getting word of the tsunami.

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