The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center on Oahu issued a tsunami advisory for Hawaii on Tuesday afternoon, following an 8.2 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Chile, though a Maui County spokesman said that officials were expecting only a 1-to-3 foot wave to hit Kahului Harbor this morning.
A major tsunami was not expected to hit Hawaii, but sea level changes and strong currents were possible along all coasts that could be hazardous to swimmers, boaters and people near the shoreline at beaches, harbors and marinas, tsunami center officials said.
"The threat may continue for several hours after the initial wave arrival," officials said.
The earliest waves were expected to arrive in Hawaii at 3:24 a.m. today, a center bulletin said.
Center Director Chip McCreery told reporters Tuesday that geophysicists were evaluating how much energy emanated from the magnitude-8.2 earthquake. He said that the scientists were watching data from deep-ocean sensors off the coast of South America to determine what level of alert to issue for Hawaii.
McCreery said that hopefully the alert would be limited to an advisory. That would warn of strong currents that could threaten swimmers and potentially cause minor flooding of beaches and harbors. The advisory also means that there is no major danger of flooding inland and that full evacuations are not needed.
On Tuesday afternoon, Maui County Civil Defense officials were preparing the emergency command center. But later, when it looked as if the island would not be affected by a major tsunami, Civil Defense officials chose to keep on only a limited staff, according to county spokesman Rod Antone.
"They're monitoring the situation," he said of the center's "skeleton crew" around 6:15 p.m. "We're not expecting more than a 1-to 3-foot wave to hit Kahului Harbor."
As a precaution, workers moved county vehicles inland, Antone said.
Beach parks will be closed until noon today as a precaution, a county news release said.
Antone advised people to listen to the radio, watch television and to monitor news reports for updates.
The Coast Guard advised the public Tuesday evening to remain vigilant to hazardous currents and tidal surges, and mariners were advised to ensure that their vessels were secured for possible changes in sea conditions.
The public was urged to heed all warnings from local first responders and to seek updated weather conditions before heading out on the water, according to the Coast Guard. Updated weather conditions will be broadcast on VHF Channel 16.
U.S. officials said they found no threat of a tsunami along the coasts of Alaska, California, Oregon or Washington. Bill Knight, a scientist at the National Tsunami Warning Center, said that early data show that by the time waves generated by Tuesday's quake reach the West Coast, they'll be too small to pose any threat.
"Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated," tsunami center officials said earlier Tuesday. "It may have been destructive along coasts near the earthquake epicenter and could also be a threat to more distant coasts."
Waves of almost 6.5 feet were striking cities on the northern coast of Chile, according to The Associated Press.
In Chile, authorities ordered the evacuation of coastal areas, according to AP reports. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.
The U.S. Geological Survey reported the quake had a preliminary magnitude of 8.2 and struck 61 miles northwest of Iquique, Chile, at 8:46 p.m., local time. Tuesday's earthquake shook buildings as far away as Bolivia and Peru. The temblor hit an area that has been rocked by numerous earthquakes over the past two weeks.
Chile is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries. A magnitude-8.8 quake and an ensuing tsunami in central Chile in 2010 killed more than 500 people, destroyed 220,000 homes and washed away docks, riverfronts and seaside resorts.
The strongest earthquake ever recorded also struck Chile. A magnitude-9.5 earthquake in 1960 killed more than 5,000 people.