Update and summary It will be at least a day before the broad consequences of the Japan earthquake and tsunami are accurately known for the disaster hit areas, as well as for thousands of air travellers who were already part way through long haul flights to Tokyo’s airports when the calamities struck.
However the warnings and advisories of a damaging tsunami now extend beyond Hawaii, where all airports except Kona have closed, to the lowest lying west coast zones of California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and the Pacific exposures of coastal Alaska and the Aleutian islands. The tsunami advisory for the lowest coastal areas of the US west coast is one level below a tsunami warning, meaning those at risk are told to prepare to evacuate and monitor the emergency channels instead of immediately evacuating. While serious inundation at airports like San Francisco International or Los Angeles International or Long Beach are considered unlikely serious road traffic congestion in seaside locations and along major arterials is already being reported. There are more recent reports of a minor earthquake offshore from the main Hawaiian island.
This situation comes with consequences for hundreds of airline flights including many long haul flights still in the air and in the process of being diverted for a range of reasons including the closure of the Narita airport NE of Tokyo.
Two Jetstar flights which were on their way to Narita when the disaster struck at 4.46 pm Australian eastern summer time have diverted to Guam. Three Qantas flights on Tokyo-Australia services have been cancelled. Up to date details are being posted on Qantas.com.
Any damaging effects from the tsunami are expected to reach Hawaii’s coastal zones and airports about 3 am local time, and west coast US risk areas at around 7 am local time.
While the threat to US west coast airports remains minimal yet uncertain the seriousness of the tsunami warning in Hawaii is explicit. Tsunami sirens have sounded throughout the tidal wave prone zones of the Hawaiian islands and people in those zones in substantial concrete and steel reinforced buildings of at least six stories have been told to be prepared to evacuate to the third story or higher as the tsunami shock wave, travelling as fast as a typical jet airliner, approaches. Others have been told to evacuate to the high ground beyond the danger boundaries that are shown on Hawaii’s official tsunami emergency response maps.
The freeway tsunami warning signs are on. Heavy equipment from the airports and port facilities in Hawaii is being moved to higher ground.
The tsunami situation will affect flight planning including for routes between Australia and the US as it is expected to cause or threaten to cause the closure of alternative airports in particular those which big twin engined jets are required to remain within 180 minutes single engine flight time under ETOPS rules. However any impact on flights to Australia is considered likely to be minimal, unlike the serious disruption expected across the northern Pacific routes between the US to Japan and beyond to China and South Korea.
Those service issues could take a day to resolve because of aircraft diversions, crew duty hours and other factors.
Two of Haneda Airport’s runways have re-opened for arrivals only following the earthquake and tsunami disaster along the northern Pacific coast of Japan. Narita Airport remains evacuated Friday night. Sendai airport has been swamped. There are reports of people on the roof of the Sendai terminal building amid wreckage as far as the eye can see.
This video (above) can be found here at Rodrigo’s Tumblr, showing the tsunami sweeping through Sendai Airport.
Osaka’s two airports are open and undamaged but experiencing acute demand and delays.
The fate of the airports and travellers in the air or on the ground is obviously only a fraction of the disaster now showing on every live TV news program in the world.
It is one of the worst natural calamities of modern times, and like the Aceh tsunami, it is being intensively videoed and documented on social and news media.
These other images have appeared on Aljazeera of the scene at Sendai Airport as seen from a helicopter.
EVALUATION A TSUNAMI HAS BEEN GENERATED THAT COULD CAUSE DAMAGE ALONG COASTLINES OF ALL ISLANDS IN THE STATE OF HAWAII. URGENT ACTION SHOULD BE TAKEN TO PROTECT LIVES AND PROPERTY. A TSUNAMI IS A SERIES OF LONG OCEAN WAVES. EACH INDIVIDUAL WAVE CREST CAN LAST 5 TO 15 MINUTES OR MORE AND EXTENSIVELY FLOOD COASTAL AREAS. THE DANGER CAN CONTINUE FOR MANY HOURS AFTER THE INITIAL WAVE AS SUBSEQUENT WAVES ARRIVE. TSUNAMI WAVE HEIGHTS CANNOT BE PREDICTED AND THE FIRST WAVE MAY NOT BE THE LARGEST. TSUNAMI WAVES EFFICIENTLY WRAP AROUND ISLANDS. ALL SHORES ARE AT RISK NO MATTER WHICH DIRECTION THEY FACE. THE TROUGH OF A TSUNAMI WAVE MAY TEMPORARILY EXPOSE THE SEAFLOOR BUT THE AREA WILL QUICKLY FLOOD AGAIN. EXTREMELY STRONG AND UNUSUAL NEARSHORE CURRENTS CAN ACCOMPANY A TSUNAMI. DEBRIS PICKED UP AND CARRIED BY A TSUNAMI AMPLIFIES ITS DESTRUCTIVE POWER. SIMULTANEOUS HIGH TIDES OR HIGH SURF CAN SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASE THE TSUNAMI HAZARD. THE ESTIMATED ARRIVAL TIME IN HAWAII OF THE FIRST TSUNAMI WAVE IS 0307 AM HST FRI 11 MAR 2011