8.8 magnitude in Chile, tsunami reaches Hawaii - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

8.8 magnitude in Chile, tsunami reaches Hawaii

SANTIAGO, Chile-  An 8.8-magnitude earthquake rocked Chile early on Saturday killing at least 708 people, toppling buildings and triggering a tsunami threatening the Pacific rim of fire. People in Hawaii were told to protect lives and property from a tsunami crossing the Pacific as fast as a jetliner. 

Scientists have confirmed that the tsunami triggered by the earthquake in Chile has reached Hawaii.

The Tsunami warning center has canceled the tsunami alert for Hawaii, and there are no immediate reports of major damage around the Pacific rim.  Just tidal surges that reached up to about seven feet in some island chains.

An official at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center says Hawaii "dodged a bullet". Gerard Fryer, a geophysist for the tsunami center, defended the decision to urge evacuations of coastal areas, saying "better safe than sorry."

Water began pulling away from shore off Hilo Bay on the Big Island just before noon, exposing reefs and sending dark streaks of muddy, sandy water offshore. Water later washed over Coconut Island, a small park off the coast of Hilo.

The tsunami raced across the Pacific Ocean in terrifying force after the magnitude-8.8 quake hit Chile. Officials in Hawaii had ample time to get people out of the potential disaster area, and thousands were evacuated.

Though notoriously hard to predict, the tsunami was not expected to be as devastating as the waves generated after a magnitude-9.5 earthquake hit Chile in 1960. 

A tsunami advisory was also extended to include the states of Oregon and Washington and parts of Alaska, as well as coastal British Colombia. The Pacific Tsunami center had earlier included the coast of California and some Alaskan islands in its advisory.

An advisory is the lowest level alert. The West Coast Alaska Tsunami Warning Center says that a tsunami advisory means there is a possibility of strong localized currents but no significant inundation is expected.

The tsunami generated by Saturday's earthquake reached the Pacific Northwest with non-damaging waves registering along the Oregon and Washington coasts.

The National Weather Service kept a tsunami advisory in effect and warned that sea levels were still rising Saturday afternoon. The advisory indicated that a tsunami capable of producing strong currents or waves was expected.

Authorities reported scattered unusual tidal surges in San Diego and Ventura north of Los Angeles. The California Emergency Management Agency received reports of varying turbulence up and down the coast, but nothing significant.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a warning for Chile and Peru, and a less-urgent tsunami watch for Ecuador. The center said an earthquake of this size has the potential to generate a destructive tsunami that can strike coastlines near the epicenter within minutes and more distant coastlines within hours."

In May 1960 the country was ravaged what is now known as Valdivia or Great Chilean Earthquake, which was rated 9.5 on the moment magnitude scale. The resulting tsunami affected southern Chile, Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines, reaching as far as eastern New Zealand and southeast Australia. The estimated death toll from that disaster ranged from over 2,200 to 5,700.