Joshua Adam Hicks and Priyanka Sharma contributed to this report.
More than two dozen bystanders gathered early Friday morning at Poplar Beach in Half Moon Bay to witness the tsunami waves stemming from the magnitude 8.9 earthquake that struck the eastern coast of Japan Thursday night. Waves there, however, did not top more than a few feet.
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According to Associated Press reporters covering events from Japan, “A ferocious tsunami spawned by one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded, slammed Japan’s eastern coast Friday, killing hundreds of people as it swept away boats, cars and homes while widespread fires burned out of control,” spawning a tsunami alert affecting twenty countries bordering the Pacific.
In preparation for possible tsunami impact along the California coast, Gov. Jerry Brown’s office issued a statement, saying in part, “PERSONS IN LOW-LYING COASTAL AREAS SHOULD MOVE INLAND TO HIGHER GROUND AND BE ALERT TO INSTRUCTIONS FROM THEIR LOCAL EMERGENCY OFFICIALS. TSUNAMIS OFTEN ARRIVE AS A SERIES OF WAVES WHICH COULD BE DANGEROUS FOR AS MUCH AS 10 TO 12 HOURS AFTER THE INITIAL WAVE ARRIVAL.”
Nevertheless, a sizeable crowd gathered despite warnings from the governor’s office and the City of Half Moon Bay Public Works office. Two California Highway Patrol helicopters were spotted circling the area shortly before 8 a.m., right before the waves were scheduled to appear.
Kevin Frink and Robert Eastman, employees of the City of Half Moon Bay Public Works who work in conjunction with fire and police officials, said the waves were expected to be no more than a 3-foot tidal surge. The city’s Emergency Operations Center assigned Frink and Eastman to cover Poplar Beach, but they said the shorelines of Kelly, Kehoe and Miramar Beaches may be more susceptible to a potential tidal surge.
Though police went door-to-door and used loudspeakers to issue the tsunami warnings around dawn, some residents did not deem the waves a considerable threat. Skyline resident Tony Alfry first heard about the warnings while reading the New York Times website early this morning, but he remained skeptical of the tsunami’s impact.
“I knew I had to come to Half Moon Bay,” Alfry said. “I was here for the last tsunami warning and it was a non-event.”
Alfry was more surprised by the traffic along route 92 leaving Half Moon Bay. The nearly two-mile long traffic jam extended from Skyline Dr. on Highway 92 southbound to Highway 35. Cars lined both sides of the street, despite officers’ repeated attempts to keep traffic flowing.
A local substitute teacher, Deanna Bone-Rundle, came out to watch the waves when she learned that her school was closed along with other coastline schools in Half Moon Bay.
Rundle said she thought the 40-foot cliff at Poplar Beach would be a good place to see potential waves. She thought she would be safe watching from there, considering she had heard the coast was expecting no more than 3-foot waves.
Small businesses, including a handful of local coffee shops and convenient stores, remained closed due to the tsunami warnings.
Beginning at 5:30 a.m. PST, Hawaiians reported seeing swells of 6 to 9 feet according to Hawaiian TV outlet KITV. Yet the crowds at Half Moon Bay were disappointed by the showing, and an impatient young boy complained to his parents, saying “This is going to take forever.”