- Associated Press - Friday, March 11, 2011

CRESCENT CITY, Calif. (AP) — The tsunami warnings moved faster than the waves, giving millions of people across the Pacific hours to flee to higher ground. Now they are left to clean up what the waves had wrought: Destroyed docks and damaged boats.

A deadly tsunami generated by an 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Japan raced across the Pacific on Friday and into marinas and harbors in Hawaii and on the West Coast, sending boats crashing into one another, carrying some out to sea and demolishing docks.

The damage — the most severe in two seaside towns along the Oregon-California border — was estimated to be in the millions.

“This is just devastating. I never thought I’d see this again,” said Ted Scott, a retired mill worker who lived in Crescent City, Calif., when a 1964 tsunami killed 11 people, 17 total along the West Coast.

Still, there was relief that the destruction in the U.S. was nothing like that in Japan. The offshore quake pushed water onto land, sometimes miles inland, sweeping away boats, cars, homes and people. Hundreds are dead.

Workers are seen inside the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, Thursday, March 10, 2011, in Honolulu. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii has widened its tsunami warning to include Hawaii and the rest of the Pacific Ocean. The first waves were expected to arrive at 2:55 a.m. HST Friday. (AP Photo/ Marco Garcia)
Workers are seen inside the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, Thursday, March 10, ... more >

“With everything that could have happened and did happen in Japan, we’re just thankful that nothing else happened,” said Sabrina Skiles, whose beachfront house in Maui was left unscathed.

The warnings — the second major one for the region in a year — and the response showed how far the earthquake-prone Pacific Rim had come since a deadly tsunami caught much of Asia by surprise in 2004.

“That was a different era,” said Gerard Fryer, a geophysicist with the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. “We got the warning out very quickly. It would not have been possible to do it that fast in 2004.”

Advisories alerting people on the western U.S. coast of higher than normal tides and strong currents continued for many hours after the waves hit.

Within 10 minutes after Japan was shaken by its biggest earthquake in recorded history, the center had issued its warning. As a tsunami raced east at 500 mph — as fast as a jetliner — the first sirens began sounding across Hawaii late Thursday.

Police went through the tourist mecca of Waikiki, warning of an approaching tsunami. Hotels moved tourists from lower floors to upper levels. Some tourists ended up spending the night in their cars.

Across the islands, people stocked up on bottled water, canned foods and toilet paper. Authorities opened buildings to people fleeing low-lying areas. Fishermen took their boats out to sea, away from harbors and marinas where the waves would be most intense.

Residents did the same last February, when an 8.8-magnitude quake in Chile prompted tsunami warnings. The waves did little damage then.

Early Friday, the tsunami waves reached Hawaii, tossing boats in Honolulu. The water covered beachfront roads and rushed into hotels on the Big Island. The waves carried a house out to sea. Seven-foot waves flooded low-lying areas in Maui.

Many other Pacific islands also evacuated their shorelines for a time. In Guam, the waves broke two U.S. Navy submarines from their moorings, but tug boats brought them back to their pier.

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