The Coast Guard has suspended its search for a man reported washed out to sea after he and two friends went to the California coast to photograph the tsunami wave spawned by the Japanese earthquake, officials said.
The missing man, who went missing near the Klamath River near the Oregon border, was the only reported U.S. casualty of the wave that raced across the Pacific at 500 mph threatening to strike with waves as high as 9 feet high.
The Coast Guard began searching for the man after his two friends escaped the wave and called 911 shortly after 10 a.m. PT. Despite a 250-square-mile search with multiple helicopters and a lifeboat that lasted more than seven hours, the man was not found, officials said.
Four other men in Oregon were swept off a beach in Brookings, Ore. Two made it back to shore on their own and two others were rescued by emergency crews, the Coast Guard said.
Earlier, people in Hawaii and the West Coast held their breath as the wave sped towards them, and breathed a sigh of relief as the wave caused relatively little damage.
The surge smashed boats and wreck docks in the California cities of Santa Cruz and Crescent City. The tsunami was strongest in Crescent City, which was smacked with an 8-foot tall wave that destroyed the city's piers and sank boats.
On Hawaii's Big Island, waves surged over roads and into lobbies of beachfront hotels.
Nevertheless, President Obama said in a news conference that Washington was "taking this very seriously," and urged people, "if you are told to evacuate, do as you are told."
The president said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was "fully activated."
In a personal note, the president added, "I grew up in Hawaii. That just makes my concern more acute."
The 8.9 magnitude earthquake that rattled Japan today triggered a tsunami that sped across the Pacific Ocean at a velocity that matched that of a commercial jetliner.
Tsunami warning sirens went off from Hawaii to Alaska and Oregon. Evacuations jammed roads and prompted fistfights at gas stations, and the federal government prepared to deploy emergency relief teams.
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In the end, the tsunami drenches the coastlines, but caused little damage.
Officials did not regret their warnings and calls for evacuations.
"We called this right. This evacuation was necessary," said geophysicist Gerard Fryer in Hawaii. "There's absolutely no question, this was the right thing to do."
The tsunami has claimed hundreds of lives in Japan, and with the devastation of the 2004 tsunami still fresh when 230,000 people died, officials were not taking chances.
The tsunami reached Hawaii around 3:30 a.m. local time. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center says Kauai was the first island hit early by the wave, which quickly swept through the Hawaiian Island chain. There were no immediate reports of serious damage.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey the first wave to hit was not as large as experts anticipated, but bigger ones were expected to follow.
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie ordered the evacuation of coastal areas. Through the night, residents waited on lines to buy gas, bottled water, canned food and generators.