Indonesian officials said that two hours after the first waves of a tsunami arrived in some parts of the Southeast Asian archipelago, initial signs were that the wave has not been too damaging.
Data from ocean monitoring equipment put in place after the Southeast Asian nation lost more than 100,000 of its citizens to a massive tsunami in 2004, so far indicates that the waves triggered by the earthquake in Japan were 10 centimeters high at a northern island of Moluccas and 40 centimeters high off Papua New Guinea.
"It is lower than we predicted," said Mr. Fauzi, the head of Indonesia's Earthquake and Tsunami Center in Jakarta, who goes by only one name. "We are not sure yet if this is maximum wave height, it could take hours to know this for sure."
He said that while no damage has been reported so far, the country is not lowering its tsunami alert and still recommends people stay away from the water.
"We can not say the danger has passed," said Mr. Fauzi. "The threat is still there."
It is hard to gauge the likely behavior of a tsunami as its height will depend on the shape of the ocean floor as well as the shape of coastline. It is also very difficult to survey any effects in a sprawling country like Indonesia which is made up of more than 17,000 islands, many of which have limited connection to the outside world, which means it could be some time before a full assessment of any damage is made.
Taiwanese officials, who had previously issued a tsunami warning, said early Friday evening that the waves caused no damage. They had shuttered schools and offices in areas likely to be affected and urged its residents along the coast to take precautions against the incoming waves. But not everyone along the rugged east coast got the message as local television broadcast images of uninformed fisherman and hikers.
Alice Shih, a hotel owner on the coast of Hualien, said she left her hotel with her family and pets around 5 p.m. to go up a nearby mountain. "From what we could see … nothing changed, and we also saw five cargo tankers," she said. After an hour she and her family returned to the coast. She added that all reservations for the night had been canceled after the tsunami alerts.
The Philippines so far has suffered only small waves from the tsunami that accompanied the devastating earthquake that ravaged parts of northern Japan Friday, the country's top seismologist said, with no reports of casualties or damage.
Renato Solidum Jr., director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, said initial reports indicated that parts of the country's Pacific coast were struck by waves ranging from 30 centimeters to one meter in size but so far it appears they have caused no damage. "It's good news," Mr. Solidum said, but added that the agency will continue to monitor the situation as the night drags on.
Chito Castro, deputy chief of the Philippines' National Disaster Coordinating Council's operations center, also said the first waves hitting the coastal provinces of Batanes and Cagayan were about 60 centimeters high. "They're not damaging and they couldn't hurt anybody, but we still have hours left to monitor the situation," Mr. Castro said.
Earlier in the day, disaster response officials carried out large evacuations of coastal provinces facing the Pacific Ocean. Joey Salceda, governor of Albay province southeast of Manila, and his staff instructed residents living on low-lying coastal areas to move to specially-marked evacuation sites at least 5 meters above sea level. Around 90,000 people were moved in Albay alone, with some walking while others crowded onto the back of motorized tricycles or hitched rides on other forms of transport.
The Philippines has long experience dealing with the storm surges that accompany the dozens of typhoons that batter the country each year, and these preventative measures could also help save lives in the event of a tsunami slamming into the country. Filipinos in some parts of the country are also used to evacuating their homes for extended periods of time during frequent bouts of volcanic activity.
Concern in coming hours is likely to focus on smaller Pacific Island nations. A tsunami on the scale of the wave that has smashed into Japan's coast could devastate many of the low-lying islands in the region already under threat from rising ocean levels.
In Fiji, the country's department of seismology said it was monitoring for signs of a tsunami developing but didn't expect a significant threat. Tourism operators in Fiji were also concerned by the possibility of a tsunami hitting the tropical nation. A spokeswoman for the luxury Fiji Beach Resort and Spa said late Friday that no alert has been issued but it was monitoring the situation closely.
In the remote Cook Islands, hotels were also nervous about the possibility of a giant wave hitting the tiny Pacific outpost's shores. Rere Wichman, a member of hotel staff at the Rarotongan Beach Resort & Spa said that guests have been alerted in case of the need to evacuate. "We are just on watch," said Ms. Wichman.
The New Zealand government cautioned that a tsunami, if it happens, could hit areas around on the country's North Island just after 6 a.m. local time Saturday, or about noon Friday East Coast time. New Zealand is still recovering from its own earthquake disaster, which wrecked its second-largest city Christchurch last month.
In Australia, the government said there was no immediate threat of a tsunami hitting the mainland or its territories but cautioned that it was monitoring the situation in the Pacific closely. "It is still too early to know the full extent of the damage but it is clear that this is a significant disaster," the government said.