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Deadly Earthquake in Chile; Hawaii Awaits Possible Tsunami

Aired February 27, 2010 - 15:00   ET



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: A deadly earthquake hits Chile and sends fear rippling across the Pacific. We continue our breaking news coverage of this event taking place in Chile and now how it is affecting the Pacific west coast, the Pacific Coast of the U.S. and beyond.

The quake struck the central part of the country early this morning. It was centered about 200 miles southwest of the capital of Santiago, near the heavily populated city of Pensenso (ph). Here is what we know right now. The earth quake was magnitude 8.8; at least 147 people are now confirmed dead. But that number is expected to rise. The quake also triggered tsunami warnings and advisories across the entire Pacific basin all the way to Japan.

We are also hearing a large wave killed three people on the island of Juan Fernandez, 400 miles off the Chilean coast. Ten are missing, plus waves up to six feet reportedly struck parts of French Polynesia. The Hawaiian Islands are also bracing for a potential tsunami and stock piling up on supplies as best they can. Sirens were sounded there this morning at the 11:00 Eastern hour warning people to get off the coast and head to higher ground.

Plus the U.S. navy Pacific fleet in Honolulu has recalled some key personnel to duty to start planning a response if a tsunami does hit. We are keeping close watch on the ripple effects from that Chilean earthquake and how Hawaii is kind of in what is considered to be a potential bull's-eye of the tsunami as these advisories are still in effect. Rick Sanchez, my colleague here, is joining us. You've been monitoring a lot of the CNN Chile images and other pretty extraordinary images that we are learning so far.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: As you're speaking to me I'm hearing that Spanish in my ear right now. I am going to switch it back to English. As we monitor the information that is not coming from CNN, there are a couple of quick details I think I can share with you right now.

The first one is you heard talk this morning about a 15-story building in Concepcion (ph) that may have literally flattened. We are getting the very first pictures of that building as it was described to us. They said it was like a domino. One building fell on another building and affected that and then went on another building. Looks like these are those pictures. The story we had was it was a 15-story apartment building. This may be it, but it may be next to that. This doesn't look like 15 stories. To finish that story, 15 stories collapsed, hadn't got any videos yet. It was an aerial report that was filed by someone just a little bit earlier. So these are brand-new pictures by the way that we are assuming may have something to do with that.

WHITFIELD: What is frightening and alarming, we are talking about an earthquake that hit 3:00 in the morning so presumably in those apartment buildings people were sleeping.

SANCHEZ: Exactly. And there is one other thing, Fred that I should share with you as I'm monitoring what they are saying now. That is in Chilong (ph) there has been a prison riot. There was 269 inmates and the fear is that the earthquake caused a partial collapse of the prison itself and then the prisoners escaped. They are obviously having a problem with that. They say they captured 28 so far and they are working on calling in military personnel to see if they can deal with that situation.

WHITFIELD: Something that was very similar to what we saw in Haiti as a result of the earthquake that struck there just a little over a month ago. Rick Sanchez, thanks so much, appreciate it. We're going to check back with you throughout the evening.

SANCHEZ: I'll be listening.

WHITFIELD: A long haul to our continuing coverage about what is taking place in Chile and the remnants of that earthquake. We are talking in the form of a tsunami now. So also, Rafael Romo is at the CNN International desk. He is part of our continuing coverage here. Chad Myers, Jacqui Jeras both in the Weather Center tracking the path of the potential tsunami and our Josh Levs monitoring the web as well bringing us eyewitness accounts. It's turning out to be very similar to other disasters that we have seen. That is how people are communicating with one another.

Let's begin with Jacqui. Jacqui some are calling this a mega thrust earthquake similar to what we saw back in 2004 with that huge tsunami that struck the Southeast Asia area.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Right. It's the type of earthquake that occurs where the crust of the earth actually gets forced up. That's why we have that tsunami threat. That is going to be the big issue in the next couple of hours and the greatest threat at this time is those waves. A tsunami has been generated. And in fact just not too far away here on Chile we did have a report of a 7.7 foot wave that came on up. The warnings do remain in effect here into the coastal areas. We think that the threat is diminishing now in the next couple of hours here.

Let's talk a little bit further up to the coast where we also had some reports of some rises in the water levels. These were very minimal. Maybe half foot to a foot to what we were seeing across parts of Central America. Acapulco reported a rise in the sea level there, maybe about half a foot. So pretty minor here. Notice up there in North America, we do not have tsunami warnings in the contiguous 48 or in Alaska. There are advisories and we are expecting seriously at this hour, in the next half hour to an hour, at least, we could see some very rough waves which move into the area. The waters might do unusual things.

If you live in California or live in Oregon, don't go to the coast to try to watch this. It is a dangerous situation there, as well. On to Hawaii. We think maybe an hour from now is when we'll start to see the beginnings of the first of the series of waves. It's not like a big tidal wave as some people call it or one big wave crashing that's going to come down. This is more like storm surge where the water rushes in and keeps rising, rising, rising, and there may be five minutes between the first waves, it might be 15 minutes between the next waves or it could be even up to an hour. This could last for several hours. We'll be watching Hawaii very closely. Every piece of the Pacific Ocean that touches the coast in this area is where we have those warnings and advisories at this hour.

WHITFIELD: A real distinction on this wave that you're talking about. It's really the velocity of this wave. People see four-foot, seven-foot waves all the time in Hawaii. That's what the surfer's love. This is different because we are talking about waves, a tsunami wave coming in with jet-like speed, right?

JERAS: Right. 500 miles per hour, so it moves very, very quickly. The Pacific Ocean is a huge basin and that's why we are talking 10, 12 plus hours between the time that the quake happened and the warnings overall will end up being expired. This is a very active part of the world where we have seismicity. Chad Myers is going to join us now, Chad over at the wall and he is going to talk to us a little bit more about what happens to this area, why this happened and how strong this was.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It was a very large quake. We talk about the magnitude. We don't use the term Richter scale anymore that is the term that doesn't exist anymore. It's a magnitude, 8.8 and so the shaking was terrific with this earthquake. The size of it was devastating, 400 miles from one side of the shaking to the other. We know that because where the aftershocks are right now, 400 miles in length of aftershocks, which means that whole part of that plate, two plates colliding together and when they all popped they popped all at the same time in a 400 mile range.

That didn't happen in the Haiti quake. Haiti popped in a very small area. So Haiti was only 7.0 even though Haiti's quake, the shaking was in fact more violent than the one we had down here in Chile. You would expect all these waves coming into the south and southeast-facing beaches; this is where you would expect the waves. But the problem is the waves travel all the way around the island.

In fact this surge, this rise in water level will go all the way around the island and will get into Hilo. So just because you think the wave is coming in here you can go to Hilo and watch it come in, that is not true. The water will wrap itself around the island. You talk about Honolulu; the wave should be on this side, not true. It comes into the harbor itself and it will affect all of the island and it will affect all of the islands and it is going to do that in 15 hours from the quake because we know how fast they move. Three hours away, six hours away, nine, 12 and now 15. Hawaii is 15 hours away from where the quake happens. You back it up 14 hours from when it happened. It is still shaking there. There are lots of aftershocks, even one at 6.9 which on any other day would be a significant earthquake in itself.

WHITFIELD: Chad, thanks so much. On most days we would admire our Thelma Gutierrez who is vacationing in Hawaii. But maybe not this time. She is on the big island. Thelma you are joining us by phone. You're there as a tourist and presumably you are staying at a hotel. What are they telling you about preparations or what to expect?

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): I can tell you Fredricka, it is the most eerie thing to be in a hotel of this size. There are 1,200 rooms here. All of these people who are staying here have had to be evacuated. We woke up this morning about 7:30 and you could hear these alarms that were sounded through the hotel.

In addition to that, there were security guards going from room to room. They were pounding on the doors, they were telling people to get out, get out, tsunami warnings. People here take this very seriously, especially the local people. Because in 1960 a tsunami came through and it was devastating to Hilo and some of the other areas around the island, as Chad said. If it hits one area, that doesn't mean the other areas are safe.

These are continuous waves of water, continuous surge. So I am standing in the lobby area of the Hilton and I am looking out on to the water right now. I can tell you, it is so calm, it is gorgeous today, but what is very eerie is that suddenly all of these people had to evacuate. I'm here with maybe a handful of people. The employees already evacuated, as well.

WHITFIELD: Evacuating to where, do you know?

GUTIERREZ: Yes. They are actually taking them to a few rooms they have, a couple of buildings that are further up from this particular property. This property is gorgeous. It's actually on the water, but they are moving the guests to an area called Kingsland, which are a series of buildings in higher area that is where my husband and my children are right now. If my family is listening, they are OK. I'm here with the operation folks of the hotel. They will send a team up to the roofs and be able to watch and assess any damage that happens as the waves swing around.

It's supposed to hit Hilo at 11:05 local time and then 20 minutes from there it is supposed to come through the coast. I'm actually 30 minutes North of Kona Kailua. We heard planes that are not landing in Hilo; we don't know if that is the case in Kona. I can tell you Fredricka, one thing that is interesting, is that we just heard in ten minutes, right about now; they are closing the Highway 19. Those of you familiar with the big islands, 19 is a huge highway that goes north and south all along the coast. That has been closed.

Nobody is going to come down into this area. The people who are here are not going to be able to leave until they are able to assess the damage and see whether or not if this actually does occur. Of course, they are taking this seriously.

WHITFIELD: OK. Thelma Gutierrez thanks so much, glad to know that your husband and children are in higher ground in the Kingsland area. If I recall properly, that is kind of horse country, that is very much on the hillside. I presume you are going to be staying there for a bit of time and reporting for us there. Thelma Gutierrez thanks so much.

Rick Sanchez once again monitoring a lot of the images coming out of Chile and hearing a lot of information from the reporting there on the ground. What more is being said?

SANCHEZ: A couple of things. Huge lines forming at gas stations now. Electricity has been knocked out in most of the southern part of Santiago, the area you and I have been talking about, earlier, Concepcion (ph). There was an incredible image that they were showing just moments ago. The main road that connects the south of Santiago to the north of Santiago, that main road that, connector, remember earlier we were talking about how they can't get from here to there and that's why they can't find out how bad the damage is? They were just showing some amazing -- it's back on. This is CNN Chile. Here it is.

That's the road we are talking about. Let me translate what they are saying. They are in an area right now, he is reporting, that takes people to the hospital. Many tourists were in this area vacationing. And they can't get out and they have to suspend their travels. And they are suspending all the classes in this particular area because they don't think anyone will be able to get to school in the next week, I believe, I heard him say.

It takes too long, he says. The government is asking people to completely stay off the roads. There is no way you're going to get there in time. The trip will take way too long. You can look at the conditions of these roads and you can see for yourself how difficult it is. They are telling the public to stay away from the roads and to be extremely careful coming close to any of these roads.

Now, keep in mind, Fred, and let me just move away from the translation for a moment. This is the main road that connects the south to Santiago itself. That's what it looks like. It's in some areas I saw moments ago, you can't drive on it. There are huge wedges in the road itself. Parts of the road have collapsed. Obviously, some of the bypasses like you see here, the pedestrian bypasses have collapsed, as well. This is what they are dealing with now. The biggest problem right now, they seem to be talking about in the coverage is the condition on the roads are destroyed on some of the main roads connecting Santiago proper to the southern region like Concepcion (ph) and Champa where the actual damage has occurred.

WHITFIELD: Eye witnesses who said it was like the earth just simply opened up and now we are seeing some of the visuals just now coming in that really kind of demonstrate what exactly what she was talking about.

SANCHEZ: And that's the problem, it is not the earthquake itself, it's what the problem does to the infrastructure that then destroys the livelihood of the people who live there.

WHITFIELD: Rick thanks so much. As a result of this earthquake that took place in Chile, well now tsunami advisories going out everywhere in the Pacific. It's involving Asian Coast, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. Pacific Coast and of course Hawaii where there is the presence of U.S. military ships. Our Barbara Starr will be joining us momentarily to let us know exactly how those ships and submarines are being moved.


WHITFIELD: All right. The island of Hawaii is now in the bull's- eye as a result of an earthquake that took place in Chile. It has spawned a tsunami advisory in effect. The U.S. military presence is quite strong in Hawaii. Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us right now on the phone. Barbara there is precautions being taken right now to get the U.S. military ships and submarines into place or at least out of harm's way. Because we are talking about a tsunami wave that will be coming in with the velocity of jet-like speed.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Absolutely, Fred. We've been in touch with the navy all day. We can tell you now in Hawaii at Pearl Harbor area, four U.S. navy warships getting under way. The number of ships will stay tied up in port. But they are trying to get as many as they can out of the way. These ships are very expensive, multibillion dollar war ships and they need to get them away from when this wave hits.

Even ships in San Diego, California, are being sent out to sea also for the expected high water to come there. Of course, the U.S. military has been in touch with civil defense authorities in Hawaii standing by ready to offer any assistance in helping people in Hawaii. The U.S. military does have a very significant presence in the 50th state there. There's quite a significant army contingent. They have a lot of helicopters also potentially ready to help with transportation, Medieval; anything that is needed if this causes destruction. They are ready to go if they have to, Fred.

WHITFIELD: And so give me an idea Barbara how the U.S. military is poised to help once tsunami, if it does indeed hit this area and create an emergency situation?

STARR: We've spoken to military command centers today. They are on stand by. Of course national disaster, emergencies, any kinds of situations. There is a very strong connection between local authorities and any military units on the ground, in Hawaii in particular, like so many other places. Commanders know the mayor, city council, and the local authorities. They talk all the time.

In this case, of course, the thousands and thousands of military personnel in Hawaii are also residents of that state. I've spoken to military sources throughout the day as they were driving into the office. They are getting ready for all of this. They were also making arrangements to evacuate their own families from the low-lying ground. This is affecting the military both as citizens of Hawaii, so of course in terms of the national security aspects, making sure they take care of those very expensive ships and submarines and either get them out of the way or get them tied up as securely as possible.

Of course, everyone is watching the clock. They know the first waves are going to hit at any point and the next couple of hours. Everybody is holding their breath. They made all the preparations and they sure hope this does not turn into some sort of unfortunate disaster, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr thanks so much. That is how the U.S. military is bracing for the effects of what resulted from that earthquake in Chile. Imagine while in Chile you've been living there temporarily and something like this of this caliber happens, what do you do? We'll be talking with a man by the name of Ben Kasnoka (ph) who has been living in Chile for almost three months now. He was awakened just like thousands of other people in the middle of the night as a result of an 8.8 magnitude quake.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back. While Hawaii is under a tsunami watch as a result of the earthquake that hit Chile overnight, in Chile a number of people are still trying to make sense of what happened at 3:00 a.m. their time.

Among them Ben who is from California, but has been living in Chile for about three months now. The U.S. State Department has also set up a network in which to locate American loved ones in Chile. There are about 1,000 by the estimates of the U.S. State Department.

Ben give me an idea what you experienced at 3:00 a.m. your time.

BEN KASNOKA (ph), LIVES IN CHILE: Well at 3:00 was the first big jolt. That wasn't as scary as the aftershocks. The first jolt, I'm from California, I've been through earthquakes, no big deal. I actually went back to bed. It was the aftershocks, 6.2 to 6.3 earthquake shock just an hour or so after the main shock. That woke me up again. That's when people started getting nervous. I heard my neighbors saying, gracias when the aftershock stops. They were saying, thank you, god, thank you, god. They kept coming throughout the morning.

WHITFIELD: Explain to me why you have been living in Chile for the past 2 1/2 to three months or so?

KASNOKA: I picked Chile because I wanted to go to a South American country to work on writing projects. Chile has some of the best infrastructure, one of the most stable governments in Latin America. I wasn't planning on experiencing an earthquake, but for all the reasons I chose Chile I'm optimistic that they'll be able to recover as any country could.

WHITFIELD: And you're living in a newer area of Santiago?

KASNOKA: Yes. It's a wealthier neighborhood. At least my building is relatively new so it withstood -- there is some damage on the sides, but not a total collapse. You go into Santiago in the poorer neighborhoods; some of those buildings have entirely collapsed. I think the whole thing about economics and poverty affecting how these disasters affect the areas, whether it's Haiti or Chile, that story is very much real.

WHITFIELD: Because you're in an upscale area these are newer structures. When you take a look outside you see the damage is minimal?

KASNOKA: I walked around this neighborhood all most every side walk there is rubble, there is broken grass, but I didn't see any buildings that were entirely destroyed. There is no looting. There is obviously a lot of chaos, but I read some media reports that I think may be overstating the situation, at least here in Santiago. This is not the epicenter, remember, but I think people were pretty calm. I hear sirens a lot, emergency vehicles, but so far my experience in Chilean culture is they are very professional, very respectful, very hard working and this is not a culture that is going to start breaking onto supermarkets where people are running around the street committing havoc. I've been impressed with how the professionals and the locals have responded.

WHITFIELD: Do you suppose that's in part because the Chileans in this section have had a lot of practice as it pertains to earthquakes, maybe not of this magnitude, because this is the largest since something like early --

KASNOKA: I would like to say that Chile and California have so much in common, there are economic ties of Chile and California. One of the Chilean most famous novelists Isabel Ajendai lives in California. No one expected something of this magnitude, but I think the response to date shows that they have procedures in place to deal with something like this.

WHITFIELD: Ben Kasnoka, thank you so much. You're from California but living there in Santiago. All the best to you and appreciate your time.

KASNOKA: Thanks a lot.

WHITFIELD: All right, Ben was talking about procedures in place there in Chile.

Well, there are procedures also in place in Hawaii, bracing for a tsunami. However, this tsunami spawned by this earthquake in Chile is expected to be quite significant. And there are already measures being put into place, there have been sirens that have been sounding off early this morning to alarm and alert people that they need to take every precaution in preparation for possible tsunami strike. We'll have much more on that and Jacqui Jeras will be bringing us up today on the kinds of preparations that are underway right now in Hawaii.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The stuff is already moving at that speed, it just has to get into the bathtub, which is (INAUDIBLE) and there are three other bays in Hawaii that have...


WHITFIELD: Now, these are the warning sirens that going off in Hawaii. Why? Because there was an earthquake, a significant one taking place in Chile and now the ripple effect of a tsunami advisory is in effect. People on many of the islands in Hawaii are hearing this siren almost hourly now just a reminder that a possible tsunami could be hitting.

The estimation is it could be in the 4:00 Eastern hour. And already some people are heading to higher ground, particularly on the big island where it's very hilly and mountainous. Many people are heading to higher ground. We heard from our Thelma Gutierrez who happened to be vacationing there and she talked about the precautions that now her family members are undertaking, there.

And at the same time people are also rushing to stores to try and get any kind of last-minute rations of water and food, uncertain how long they may be going without if indeed a tsunami is to hit.

Our Rick Sanchez is also joining us now.

All of this as a result of an earthquake that took place in Chile. So, we are talking about two colossal events taking place. Many miles distance apart. However, it's an amazing logic as to how this has happened.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, and setting the table for what the expectation is at this point. and that's why this next half hour, for those at home watching right now, is kind of the bewitching hour. It's the crucial time as you follow this.

So, Jacqui Jeras is here and she is going to take us through this from a meteorological standpoint. But, the framework of this is the following. It's now 2:35, here on the East Coast, staying on the East Coast time for the sake of clarity. At 4:00, 25 minutes from now, is the expected potential time when this wall of water, for lack of another term, this tsunami that we've been hearing so much about, will make its impact on the shores of Hawaii.

So, that's where we are. So, for the next 25 minutes, the onus is on us. What we are going to do, here at CNN, is bring you every little piece of information up to that moment you need to know. Plus, when that moment happens, we have live cameras in Hawaii, we've got correspondents standing by and they are going to be able to feed you the information as it happens. All right?

So, let's start with Jacqui Jeras, show us what we are talking about. Obviously, we're talking about a situation here which is going to have an effect here. JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Right. Exactly. So, we'll watch those. And all the red that you see here on the map, Rick, is where we have tsunami warnings which are still in place. We know that a tsunami has been generated. We've seen some rises in some levels anywhere between just under eight feet down to maybe 1/2 of a foot of rises. So, we know that it's out there and we know it is propagating. It moves 500 miles per hour, so very, very quickly. But look at how huge this ocean basin is, right?

SANCHEZ: And this is Hawaii.

JERAS: And that is Hawaii out there. No, Hawaii is a little bit farther to the west of our map.

SANCHEZ: So, it's not on this map.

JERAS: Yeah, there we go. Here we go. Well there is Baja, California. And then we're going to take you over there is Hawaii over here.

SANCHEZ: All right.

JERAS: So, you know, the time that is estimated that is written on here, that is for Honolulu. OK? And keep in mind, it's not an exact time. and we don't have a great sense how huge this is going to be. And there are so many reasons why. NOAA saying it could be anywhere between foot-and-a-half to seven-foot rise of sea levels.

SANCHEZ: So there's variables that come into play, here.

JERAS: Exactly.

SANCHEZ: And it could be, give us again -- you went through that quick...

JERAS: About foot-and-a-half to about seven-foot sea level rise. But this isn't just one big wave that's going to come on up. And a lot of the reason why you've got to have a range is because of the bisymmetry. Right?

SANCHEZ: Well, let's do this, if we possibly can. And we can also bring our expert in on this in just a little bit. Seven-and-a- half-feet, if that's the max compared to Banda Aceh is what? The tsunami in Banda Aceh? How big was that one? Do we know?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know off the top of my head.

SANCHEZ: We should probably find that out. Right? I mean, because that will give us at least a frame of reference as to how big that area is. And we don't know.

JERAS: We don't know. We don't know for sure and it's because the coastline will vary it, right? So, it just depends how much that water will get pushed up as to how high ultimately it will be. And you know, there are variations all on this coastline. I don't know if you heard Chad earlier, he was talking a little bit about how it's not going to be just on a certain coast. It's going to propagate around and it's going to funnel into all these little bays and that's one of the concerns we've been talking about with Hilo, in particular, is that water is going to get pushed even higher when you're in a little point area.

SANCHEZ: Exactly. It's the lagoon effect, so to speak. You push all the water, the smaller the area, the more the push, the more...

JERAS: Right.

SANCHEZ: Let's do this. I'm hearing now...

JERAS: Let's walk on over.

SANCHEZ: Hold on, I'm hearing now that Thelma Gutierrez is standing by. And she is in Hawaii, she is joining us by phone.

Thelma, go ahead and let us know everything you know, including the expectation there in the big island.

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, one of the things that I'm doing right now is I'm walking through an evacuation center. As I had mentioned, I was staying at the Hilton Waikoloa down on the water.

JARES: How many...

GUTIERREZ: They moved people out -- pardon me?

SANCHEZ: No, go ahead, Thelma, go ahead. We were just trying to figure out some things here. You go ahead and finish your report.

GUTIERREZ: So anyway, 7:30 this morning, sirens go off. Security came pounding on all the doors telling people to get out of their rooms. At that point it was very organized. However, you know, there was a sense of urgency about getting people out of the area because they had to move so many people out of this one hotel. And you can imagine that this scene is being replicated throughout the island on all the coastal areas.

So, they moved people out on buses. They brought them, in this particular instance, up to an area called Kingsland. So, it was very fortunate for many of the guests of the hotel to move them in buses and some of them had cars. They came to this area where they have activities for the kids. They have food, that kind of thing. They're able to ride this thing out because it's on much higher ground.

So, I'm trying to make my way through this little make-shift evacuation center. I see people in wheelchairs who were the first to be taken out of the hotel. There are many elderly people who are not able to move on their own. And so, they were a first priority for the hotel.

Now, I can also tell you that the Highway 19 which goes between (AUDIO GAP) and goes up toward the Kohala coast and beyond, that entire roadway has been closed off. And so, people who are down on, kind of on the strip that follows the coastline are not able to move away from this area. The police have been very strict about making sure people and tourists, looky-loos, people with cameras who might want to record this event are not able to get to the beach area. Of course it would be very dangerous should this surge happen. But people here taking this very, very seriously.

SANCHEZ: Well, as well they should. Now, just for clarifications sake, we were having a conversation here, Thelma, just a little while ago about what the maximum wall of water height is going to be if this tsunami comes onshore in the next 20 or 25 minutes. We had said 7-1/2 feet is the max, which would create a problem there. We were trying to get a comparison to what the number would be in Banda Aceh -- what the number was, I should say, in the previous tsunami in Banda Aceh. And you have that number now.

JERAS: That was 45 feet.

SANCHEZ: Forty-five feet. That's a big, big difference, isn't it?

JERAS: Huge difference, absolutely. You know, one of the best things about this scenario is we've had so much time to plan, Rick. You know, this happened in the middle of the night, the sirens went off. The people who don't have sirens will hear them from the Coast Guard who have been flying into the area, letting those sirens off, so maybe if you didn't hear it...

SANCHEZ: But still, back to the thing that we were just talking about, 7-1/2 feet in a low-lying area can still cause a lot of damage because hurricanes have not even gone that high and created scenarios like we saw in New Orleans, for example.

JERAS: Oh sure, knee-deep water, Rick, down to your knees, if that water is moving fast enough, that's all it takes to knock you off your feet, absolutely, and hold you under there.

SANCHEZ: Good stuff.

GUTIERREZ: Rick, one of the things that people here were very concerned about, is you had, you know, fishermen who were out on the water, you have boat tours that go out in the morning, whale watching tours. Right now it's spectacular out there. So, they had to make sure to get all these people off the beaches and out of the water.

And what you were talking about, you know, this six-foot wall of water or six to eight feet is what we're hearing, here. At any case, what you're worried about is that continuous motion of water. So, it would be the surge that would come onshore and many of these incredible resorts are right on the water. That is the concern and that is the reason that they moved all of these people out.

SANCHEZ: Thelma Gutierrez doing yeomen's work, there, certainly, holding up the fort, trying to create what is, for a lot of folks, there in Hawaii, an anxious situation, I would imagine. And when you look at the topography of Hawaii, specifically, I mean, I grew up in Florida, everything was flat. Anytime the water came up, the water was on the street. That's a topographically, speaking, a much more hilly and much more mountainous terrain.

JERAS: Right. These are volcanoes, that's what the Hawaiian islands are.

SANCHEZ: Right. But, where people live in the low-lying areas, they're going to be affected.

JERAS: Absolutely they are going to be affected. And something to keep in mind is that, you know, this isn't going to be just one big wave and it's not going to be the first one, necessarily, be the biggest. Right? So, don't think one wave comes in and you're over and done with. This comes in a series. So, they could be five minutes apart, they could maybe 15 minutes apart or even longer than that. And maybe the biggest is going to be somewhere in the middle.

SANCHEZ: And as we look at this, I mean, we are going to keep an eye on this area right here showing you how it comes in. That's why we have Jacqui, that's why we have Chad. Let's go back to Fred. Fred's got some new information coming in off of some of our affiliates, I understand. Right, Fred?

WHITFIELD: Right. Rick and Jacqui, let's go to our affiliate coverage, KITV out of Honolulu and hear what they are saying.

JUSTIN FUJIOKA, KITV NEWS: Somewhere on the order of about a foot-and-a-half and two feet. And then last, Nawiliwili Harbor 11:42 is when we're expecting Kauai to feel the effects of this first wave and the largest wave in that series which may continue into the afternoon. Expected it to be a 0.9 to 1.4 meters, so, that could be anywhere between one and two feet.

We also have come -- some other estimates here from other locations including Holieva (ph), that would be about one to two feet, as well. And Kawaihae Harbor, which will be about one to three feet. Kawaihae Harbor, of course on the Northwest side of the island of Hawaii. So, a good example that we get good wrap-around associated with these types of events. Northwest being the complete opposite side of the island from where this energy is coming from. Still, Kawaihae Harbor could see a wave up to 3 feet in size when this wave rolls through.

Again, Hilo getting it first, 11:05, so we are just now minutes away here, from something we've been waiting for for 14-1/2 hours, now, across the state. And I don't know what we're...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Justin, thank you. This is a live picture of Black Sand Beach from Hilo. A lot of people waiting on those shorelines at high ground near those shorelines. Take a look since we are about 15 minutes away. Thank you, Justin, for that update and doing the really quick math from metric to feet. And right now we're going to Catherine -- we're going on to Catherine Cruz who is driving very near the poly (ph) right now where there are also large crowds gathering -- Catherine. CATHERINE CRUZ, KITV NEWS: Well, (INAUDIBLE) we tried to make our way into Kailua. They have closed off access into Kailua. You can't go into Kailua town. They are turning people around, diverting them back over the poly, you know, or to Port Konaoha (ph).

So, at this point we made our way back over the poly again and you have just massive cars parked on the side of the road, as we heard earlier. The poly lookout is blocked off. Do not go to that area. Just got tons of cars, crowds that are just parked on the side of the road. It's very dangerous. But again, if you are planning to go into Kailua, you cannot at this time, the roads have been closed off and they are diverting traffic back on to the highway. And that's the latest from (INAUDIBLE) side of Oahu.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Catherine Cruz, thank you very much from the poly. Right now we want to welcome viewers on CNN. We are broadcasting live on CNN. Just to let you know, this is a live picture of Waikiki Beach, it's a site that you're not going to see very often. There is no one in the water and no one on the beach. The hotels and low-lying areas have been evacuated. Many people taking to high ground right now. And we are just about 13 minutes away, aren't we, Justin?

FUJIOKA: Yes. Just a little bit -- 13 minutes away to the 11:00 hour. That's when we will likely see some effects from the first wave here on the southeast side of the island of Hawaii in Hilo, a notoriously bad place in this type of situation and that's because we do have a bowl-like-shaped topography underwater, there, as far as a sea floor. It tends to amplify energy that works its way across the Pacific and similar type events, not just from the southeast, but we've also seen on a 1964 earthquake in Alaska that generated a tsunami similar here in Hilo Bay and also back in '57 we had one come from the Russian area, that also was amplified in Hilo Bay. Doesn't matter which direction this wave is coming from. Unfortunately, Hilo Bay is shaped in that form that allows this wave to amplify.

Again, Hilo will be the first in our state to feel the effects of this tsunami set to arrive, there in the city by the bay at 11:05 our time which is now, again, as Pamela just mentioned, about 10 minutes away, here in the islands.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And those estimated wave heights, first at 11:05 in Hilo about six to seven foot. Then going on to Kahului 11:26 with perhaps something right between three and nine foot waves. Honolulu, 11:37 with one to two foot waves and Nawiliwili 11:42 with one to two foot waves.

So, that's just an estimate of what they are looking at, what they've been able to see with the buoys and some estimates, right now. So, of course, anything can happen. What we heard from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, there could be a series of waves and not necessarily the first wave is the largest. Oftentimes it's the second or third. And they are looking at intervals of 20 minutes in between each wave.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are looking at a live picture of Tantalus where many people have driven to get to higher ground, sort of a party atmosphere, there. There is not much they can see at this point. Because of the events that have been canceled around town, a lot of people going to Tantalus.

We also had a viewer to call in to mention, we've been mentioning the Hilo tsunami and also some of the events on Oahu. There is a 1957 a 70-foot wave from the -- on Kauai, from the same Russian, right the Halalain (ph) side. Right now Dan Meisenzahl is standing by at the Pacific Tsunami Center.

DAN MEISENZAHL , KITV NEWS: That's right. Hello Pam and Paula, that's right, here at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, well, now they are kind of battening down the hatches, so to speak and they've asked the media to leave the area, at least the room -- building behind us, rather, where they're tracking this tsunami. They are getting ready to see what happens, exactly, at about 11:05, 11:06 when the first tsunami is supposed to hit the big island.

And once again, the only indication we are to get from now until the big island is what happens at the big island. There's nothing in between, there are no buoys, there are no islands, nothing else to give us any other indication of what exactly we are about to experience, here in the island chain.

Now, of course the last best indicator was the Marcasis Islands and that happened at about 7:30, 8:00 this morning, Hawaii Time. And they were expecting a wave up to 12 feet high. It turned out to be six feet high. And that is a good sign for us here in Hawaii. Once again, that's what they're expecting to hit the big island with smaller waves for the rest of the island chain.

And this is also something that is making international news. The people here at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center have been getting phone calls from all over the world including al Jazeera, which is very interesting. Of course, the "Wall Street Journal," the BBC, the Larry King show, CBS News, Fox News, MSNBC, you name it, they've been calling in and National Public Radio and also NHK from Japan. And Japan is keeping a very close eye on this tsunami and what happens here in Hawaii because of a similar tsunami, of course, that destructive tsunami that hit in the 1960s. It originated from Chile, it hit the big island, caused a lot of death and destruction there, especially in the Hilo area. And then the folks in Japan thought that they were in the clear. Well, they were not.

About 200 people died whether that tsunami struck. Of course, the science is much different now, they're very ready. But all parts of the world are watching Hawaii right now to see exactly what's going to happen here. And, of course, we're part of the United States, a very populated area. And everybody here at the tsunami center is saying, please, heed all warnings from the local police that are out there, state officials, county officials, if you're in a low...

WHITFIELD: You are listening to live coverage from our affiliate KITV. We're going to show you other images momentarily out of Hawaii. But right now, I want to go to our Rick Sanchez who is there in the weather center. Apparently Rick, you've got some new information about what the expectation is here in Hawaii.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, this is important. And here's why. What scientists do to try to and measure, as difficult as it is, what a tsunami does or how it moves is a series of buoys that are in different waters at different stages. So as the tsunami moves across, those buoys literally give a reading. And that reading is then sent back to meteorologists and they can start to finally get an idea of whether it is a tsunami, how large a tsunami, how big the waves are, et cetera, et cetera.

We just got one of those readings. And we want to share it with you, because we think it's important and will help you understand that there is something actually going on out there in the Pacific.

Let me bring Jacqui in. Chad is standing by. I'm looking at the other side of the room, now. Switch that camera over there, if you possibly can, Jacqui, as you get your information together. Look at all the guys we have over here -- over there putting this information together and one of them just stood up a while ago and he said we've got a reading, we've got a reading. Then we called our producers and that's why we're putting this stuff on the air now.

So Jackie, let us know. What's going on?

JERAS: OK, so these are the detection which are out there in the Pacific Ocean. And you can see the flashing ones. These are active. These are the ones that we're watching. And there's Hawaii right from there. About 140 miles away from the Hawaiian island, we have a Bouie out there and this is what it is showing here. There you can see the line and notice this big drop down here. We have this big drop. This is about a nine-meter drop.

SANCHEZ: Nine meter drop. What does that mean?

JERAS: Well, it means that the ocean waves are doing something, that we're seeing some changes, it's been going down. And look at that, we've got a big rise. And so we're going to get our expert in here who's way smarter than you and me put together. Dr. Kurt Frankel.

And Dr. Frankel, tell us a little bit, you know, we talk about how the tsunami waves will come in or the water will pull back before we start to see. Is this a sign of that?

DR KURT FRANKEL, GEORGIA INST OF TECH: I think that's a sign of that. I don't think you can translate that nine meters into necessarily any specific wave height that will hit Hawaii, so we need to be careful about that. You know, doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be nine meters of run-up in Hawaii. But it's showing that the tsunami in fact...

SANCHEZ: Nine meters, by the way, nine meters in English is ...

FRANKEL: Oh, about 27 feet. SANCHEZ: Twenty-seven feet. So we're seeing a 27-foot drop in that area right there? Sorry about that.

FRANKEL: That's right, and so this is recorded by a pressure censor on the bottom of the ocean that is attached to a buoy. So that pressure sensor, the pressure of the ocean changes, as the wave comes through, it sends a signal to this buoy, which relays it to satellite and then down to NOAA.

SANCHEZ: Well, hold on a minute, wouldn't it follow that -- follow that if all of a sudden a part of the ocean just dropped 27 feet, the reaction to, you know, the yang is that yin is that it will also go up at some point?

FRANKEL: It will go up. But that does not mean, again, that there is not going to be 27 feet...

SANCHEZ: No, I'm not asking you to do 27 to 27. I'm just saying if there's a drop, will there be an increase?

FRANKEL: There should -- there should be an increase.

SANCHEZ: So there will be some kind of wave activity there. What you're saying is we can't exactly measure...

FRANKEL: You can't extrapolate that to what is going to happen in Hawaii. OK, it's the function of the coastline topography, of how the -- of the slope of the continental -- there's no continental shelf in Hawaii, but the slope of the land coming off the coast. And so, there is a whole other number of factors that play into this.

SANCHEZ: But what we can say is, tell me if I'm wrong, there is a tsunami there and it was just detected that it caused a 27-foot drop.

FRANKEL: Yeah, we recoded the tsunami passing that buoy, yes.

SANCHEZ: That's important. Sorry. Um, well, this is interesting. I mean, I have never seen something develop like this and science being used the way you guys use it to get all of your material.

Fred, you got something, right?

WHITFIELD: Thanks so much. Well, you know, it is a tick tock there in Hawaii. The expectation is the first set of waves would het the Hilo side of the big island. And we want to join -- you can look at the images there, it's a very low lying area. All you got to get is just a little bit of sprinkles and you've got flooding situation there on the Hilo side. And now the expectation is there could be anywhere between one to seven foot waves to hit that area. Let's listen in right now to our affiliate coverage KHON.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...when it comes to tsunamis, but we heard an oceanographer earlier this morning that there is no sure way to tell which wave will be the most devastating. Trini (ph) and Justin are standing by in the forecast center.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hang on, Justin. I think, oh, it's 10:56. I think we do have Mark Venary (ph) . I'm told that Mark Venary is standing by via Skype in Hilo. We're trying to arrange to get that picture up and running. This is, once again we're trying to utilize all the technology available to us. And we thank Mark Venary very much for being with us from Hilo this morning. Of course, that is the focal point of all at tension of the state if not the nation.

Mark, everybody safe there so far?

MARK VENARY, KHON: Everyone is safe so far. We've got helicopters flying around and it's just a waiting game here right now. It's just still an eerie feeling, that's all I can say about that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone very apprehensive this morning awaiting what happens next.

VENARY: Yeah, definitely a waiting game here. (INAUDIBLE) it's a pretty scary thought, you know, (INAUDIBLE), we can hope for the best, like I said earlier, but we got people crowding around here at the (INAUDIBLE) and it's just a waiting game.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has to do with that particular technology. So when you talk, be sure to face the camera. In the meantime, we're going to tell folks what has been going on so far and as soon as you see anything, we're going to come right back to you. It is...

VENARY: OK, that sounds good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, there you go. Now we have good audio on you, Mark. So, you stay right there. So far, we are told that...

WHITFIELD: OK, let's take to the coverage of our affiliate KHON to the left of your screen is live coverage from our other affiliate in Honolulu, KITV. You're looking at this roadway here. This is considered higher ground on the island of Oahu and a number of cars and people have gone to this location to simply wait out the first wave of the tsunamis that are expected to hit within just minutes. Let's listen in to their live coverage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're safe and they want to see what's going to happen. But for the time being, we're just here. We're all waiting. It's getting hot. Like I said earlier, there's no rest rooms, there's no bathrooms, but the line of cars just keeps on coming. And we'll have an update for you here probably soon. So, reporting live from Round Top Drive, Shane (INAUDIBLE) KITV-4 News.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shane, thank you very much. It may seem to our viewers who are (INAUDIBLE)...

WHITFIELD: All right, well, pretty extraordinary coverage there. You kind of wonder on these islands what is higher ground. Some of the islands are very mountainous. Oahu being one of them and the big island as well. And you got a pretty good look where people go if they're in the Honolulu area, very high traffic area, big on tourism.