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Thousands return home after Chile quake, damage believed limited (Update 2)

People heading towards a higher zone

By Karin Stanton and Victoria Cavaliere

Hawaii residents were urged on Wednesday to stay clear of beaches and avoid swimming in the ocean as the first waves generated by Chile’s 8.2 magnitude earthquake arrived at the island chain.

The state remained under a tsunami advisory issued by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center but experts said they did not expect inland flooding or evacuations to be ordered.

The advisory cautioned of possible sea level changes and strong currents that could pose a danger to swimmers and boaters.

The first waves arrived on the island of Hawaii, the largest in the chain, on schedule around 3:24 a.m. local time (0924 EDT/1324 GMT) and there were no early reports of damage, said Shelly Kunishige a spokeswoman with Hawaii State Civil Defense.

“We are just receiving reports from volunteers giving wave heights and so far everything appears to be pretty normal,” said Kunishige.

On the popular Waikiki beach in Honolulu, waves were spotted at about 45 centimeters, a normal height for the area, she said.

Larger surf and strong currents were a possibility as wave energy from the earthquake off Chile’s northern coast continued to arrive through the morning, experts said.

“We’re sure the waves are not going to be large enough to cause any flooding,” Gerard Fryer, senior geophysicist for the center, told reporters late Tuesday when the advisory was issued. “However, we’re worried there may be dangerous currents so we want people off the beach and out of the water.”

The advisory is less significant than a tsunami warning, which would be prompted by expectations of widespread flooding.

Fryer said the real concern was strong currents at beaches and marinas.

“Occasionally you get a larger wave so it sweeps up the beach or something,” he said. “If you’re not ready for it you can get into difficulty, and if you’re in the water you can get banged about.”

The advisory for Hawaii will last until around 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. local time on Wednesday, Fryer said.

In Chile, six people have died following the massive quake that struck the north of the Andean country, Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo said.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the quake generated a large tsunami with the biggest wave reported at more than 7 feet. The Chilean navy said the first big wave hit the country’s coast within 45 minutes of the earthquake.

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