Japan mea culpa

TOKYO: Japanese authorities today admitted they may have been over-zealous in issuing

their first major tsunami alert in more than 15 years for a wave that ended up causing almost no damage.

“The agency’s tsunami forecasts turned out to be a bit too big. I’d like to apologise for the prolonged alerts,” Yasuo Sekita, the Meteorological Agency official in charge of earthquakes and tsunamis, told a news conference.

Authorities yesterday ordered more than half a million people to evacuate seaside areas and predicted that the tsunami sparked by Chile’s massive earthquake might

top 10 feet by the time it reached Japan. When other Pacific-Rim nations had sounded the all-clear, Japanese officials were still issuing warnings, as television stations provided non-stop live coverage with their cameras focused on the calm ocean.

When the tsunami arrived early yesterday afternoon, it was just one foot high. Waves up to 1.2 metres high later inundated some port areas, but caused no injuries or major property damage.

One disaster prevention expert, Hirotada Hirose, said he feared that “warnings by the disaster prevention authorities are losing credibility among the people.” Cautious to

the end, Japan’s Meteorological Agency maintained

its last regional tsunami alerts until 10:15 am (0115 GMT) today, after tens of thousands of people had spent the night in evacuation shelters.

But many Japanese would say authorities are right to err on the side of caution. Japan is a world leader in disaster preparedness, for a good reason.