A tsunami advisory was issued for a 450-mile stretch of U.S. coast running from north of San Francisco to central Oregon after a strong earthquake struck off Canada Saturday night.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the 7.7-magnitude earthquake hit in the Queen Charlotte Islands area. The quake sparked tsunami warnings for southern Alaska, western Canada and, later, Hawaii where Gov. Neil Abercrombie proclaimed an emergency. Initial waves appeared smaller than expected.
In addition, officials issued a tsunami advisory for areas from Gualala Point, Calif., about 80 miles northwest of San Francisco, to the Douglas-Lane county line in Oregon, about 10 miles southwest of Florence. The advisory expired early Sunday morning with no reported damage along the coast.
A tsunami warning means an area is likely to be hit by a wave, while an advisory means there may be strong currents, but that widespread inundation is not expected to occur.
The Del Norte County Sheriff's Department, based in Crescent City, Calif., near the Oregon line, said it hadn't heard of any problems as a result of the tsunami. Crescent City was one of the U.S. towns hit hardest by last year's tsunami from the Japan quake, with boats in the harbor suffering serious damage.
The first waves of a tsunami hitting Hawaii on Saturday night were smaller than expected, roughly three hours after evacuations were ordered for coastal areas threatened by the quake.
Gerard Fryer, a geologist tracking the tsunami for the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, said the largest wave in the first 45 minutes of the tsunami was measured in Maui at more than 5 feet, about 2 feet higher than normal sea levels.
State and local officials warned residents and tourists not to go back to inundation zones until an all-clear is given, though no major damage was reported.
At first, officials said Hawaii wasn't in any danger of a tsunami.The warning was changed after officials said there had been a change in sea readings.
Fryer said it could take several hours for the danger to pass in Hawaii, especially if the waves get bigger.
"It's beginning to look like the evacuation may not have been necessary," Fryer said.
The National Weather Service said there were reports of water quickly receding in bays, including Hilo Bay on the Big Island.
The warning in Hawaii spurred residents to stock up on essentials at gas stations and grocery stores and sent tourists in beachside hotels to higher floors in their buildings. Bus service into Waikiki was cut off an hour before the first waves, and police in downtown Honolulu shut down a Halloween block party.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie proclaimed an emergency, mobilizing extra safety measures.
While television traffic cameras showed onlookers at the beach in Waikiki, Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle warned people to stay away from the surf for several days.
Carlisle — who recommended people think about ditching their cars if they were in traffic — said people should be cautious.
"There's no reason to panic but there's every reason to take all of the necessary precautions," he said.
Coast Guard officials closed all harbors in the state to incoming boats and urged vessels to leave and not return until an all-clear is given.
"We don't have any reports of any tsunami impacts at this time, but we caution mariners because the tsunami surges can continue for several hours," Chief Warrant Officer Gene Maestas said.
In Kauai, three schools used as evacuation centers quickly filled to capacity.
As many people along Hawaii's coasts rushed to higher ground, officials downgraded a tsunami warning to an advisory for southern Alaska and British Columbia.
A small tsunami created by the quake was barely noticeable in Craig, Alaska, where the first wave or surge was recorded Saturday night.