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Tsunami Expected to Hit Hawaii Any Minute; Japan Heightened State Of Alert At Their Nuclear Power Plant; Clearing the Shorelines; Tsunami Hitting Hawaii Right Now

Aired March 11, 2011 - 08:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. It is 8:00 here in New York. A special edition of AMERICAN MORNING on this Friday, March 11th. I'm Kiran Chetry.

T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello to you all. I'm T.J. Holmes. It's 8:00 a.m. here on the east coast. It's 10:00 p.m. in Japan that is where we are following breaking news this morning.

This is a massive disaster, a historic earthquake, 8.9 in magnitude. One of the largest the world has ever seen hitting 80 miles off the northern coast of northern Japan. It hit some 230 miles away from Tokyo, but they felt it in a major way in Tokyo.

This was an underwater quake and what it did now was unleash a powerful tsunami. So this is a second disaster, if you will. Incredible pictures we have been seeing all morning of a massive wave of water in the Pacific Ocean as it rolls toward the shore.

CHETRY: That's right. The water could be seen washing over farmland in Sendai, near the epicenter. This is northeast of Tokyo where mud and debris, cars just flowing like lava. Some of the tsunami waves reported to be as high as 30 feet. The powerful waves just sweeping away about everything in its path, including cars, boats, even buildings.

Right now, Japan's news agency is reporting at least 59 deaths. That number expected to rise.

We just got word that the tsunami warning has been lifted for Guam. But tsunami waves are expected to hit Hawaii right about now. Full-scale coastal evacuation has been under way there.

HOLMES: All right. We turn to our Rob Marciano, keeping an eye on this wave as it moves, if you will, right about -- right about now. I guess -- what are we hearing? And what do we know so far, Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, we don't have daylight. So, that's, obviously, hindering. But we do know that just by timing and where this thing went through midway that it's going to be -- it should be hitting Hawaii right now in the path of this thing as it continues to propagate of down to the south and east.

A live picture, I'm told, we have in Hawaii, got some lights there. Not sure. Is this Hawaii, the Hawaiian islands -- is that -- it might be Honolulu, I'm not sure. Regardless, Kauai, right now, which is in the northeast island -- that is the island that I believe right now is getting hit with the tsunami, OK?

The northern shore, Princeville, Hanalei Bay, the Na'Pali Coast, amazing, amazing shoreline here and in some cases goes straight up and in other cases, there's a gentle bay and where it's great surfing. Not today. You don't want to surf this bad buoyant because it has so much mass behind it.

Even though probably it's just three to maybe as much as a nine-foot wave in most places, that doesn't sound like a lot, but between trough and crest, there is so much distance. That means the amount of water, that mast is huge and so powerful. That's why these waves, even though they're not that tall, travel so far inland with so much force.

All right. Here you go. Here's Poipu. This is the island of Kauai. This is pretty much a rain forest. The northern shore gets some big waves. It's going to hit that first, probably hitting it right now. There's the Na'Pali Coast. So, the northern coastline is getting hit with this wave right now. It will wrap around towards Poipu in probably in the next 10 minutes.

So, just because you're on the southeastern shore of any of these Hawaiian Islands doesn't mean you're not going to hit with this. This wave is so big it will wrap around the island. And you won't get as much force as the northern side, but it will wrap around and everything is really gong to depend on the temetry (ph) and geography.

Let's roll over to Hawaii proper now. Honolulu obviously is a big concern here. Here's the north shore, that's where you get all the big waves. There's the pipeline, OK. So, that will certainly hit the hardest.

It will hit there in 10 minutes. Ten minutes from now, you will see and feel the force of this tsunami on the north shore of Hawaii. Hopefully, you're on high ground because you need to be -- there's been evacuations going on all night long.

And then it will wrap around towards Honolulu. In 20 minutes, it will be hitting Honolulu proper, all right? That's pretty low land. Diamond Head is going to be a popular spot right now speaking of heading for the hills because the city of Honolulu clearly at sea level.

So, this is a dangerous situation for Honolulu and Waikiki proper. In the next 15 to 20 minutes, you will see the waters rise.

The question is: we still just don't know how high the wave is going to be. We believe judging on what happened when it went through midway that it will be anywhere from three to six feet on average in the Hawaiian islands but you have areas that have bays.

You have areas that are affected by the temetry (ph) -- meaning the scope or the scape of the earth beneath the water. That all affects how this wave will rise up. It all affects on how fast it will push inland and with how much force.

And considering how populated Honolulu is, when you have that many people trying to get to higher ground, guys

CHETRY: Right.

MARCIANO: It's been quite an operation I'm sure in the fast few hours and we'll just have to wait and see how high this wave gets in Honolulu proper. Even if it's just a few feet, it's going to have some force behind it.

CHETRY: Yes, I wanted to ask you about this, because we just got a little bit of new information in. This is coming to us, again, if from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

Tell us where Midway is. It says that the first wave of tsunami past through Midway Island with the more than eight-foot wave measured. That was according to the National weather Service. And they say that because of this, it says it looks like the largest waves in Haleiwa (ph) and Hilo will be more than six feet.

MARCIANO: OK. So, that jibes with what we've been talking about. Midway, you know, the battle for a Midway, big stronghold during the Pacific and World War II, basically a spot to refuel on the way to Japan. It was going to be huge military operation or was going to be and a huge battle there.

So, it's about 500 miles or so, give or take, from Hawaii. These things travel at 500 miles an hour. So, it hit Midway about an hour or two ago with a wave of five to eight feet. So, that jibes with the computer models and what we think is going to happen as far what will you when it hits Hawaii proper.

Five hundred miles an hour -- obviously, it slows down when it hits the friction of the bottom of the ocean. But that's the main reason that you have this kind of wave going so far inland and, you know, Honolulu seems so protected and it's just -- it's nerve wracking to me to think about how populated that area is at sea level, even though it's on the southeastern side of the island.

So, you know, there's a lot of hope going on here, along with curiosity, and we'll have to wait and see over the next 20 minutes. But it's likely hitting the north shore of Hawaii right now. And, also, the southwestern/southeastern shore of Kauai there and Poipu which has some population centers also.

So, we have to rely on the pictures and the information coming to us from our affiliates and correspondents there on the ground.


MARCIANO: A frightening and anxious situation here in the next half an hour.

CHETRY: Sure is. And, of course, as we said, this is all developing minute-by-minute. We are all learning of this, and processing it in real-time.

Rob Marciano for us, thank you for that information.

MARCIANO: All right, Kiran.

HOLMES: I want to turn back to Honolulu and Kurt Fredrickson is saying, he's the chief petty officer with the 14th Coast Guard district. He's on the line with us once again as we watch these pictures.

Sir, I appreciate you hopping on the line with us once again as we try to decide exactly what we are seeing -- certainly dark there at the time. So, these are some different pictures. I'm not sure we're looking at -- I'll deal with that here in a second.

But, sir, oftentimes, the first sign of an actual tsunami, that wave coming in, will be that the waters will recede actually, initially, before the wave actually comes. Have you seen that or any other signs that that wave is upon you?

KURT FREDRICKSON, CHIEF PETTY OFC (via telephone): I have not. We have actually relocated our command center. We are not down near the water. And that's one thing we're advising, is that people do not go down near the water to try and see the effects of it.

What we have for the past several hours is taking extensive measures to work with the maritime community, to get all the commercial vessels out of the port, to notify as many mariners as possible that they need to put themselves in a good situation where they are not putting themselves at risk.

So, over the past several hours, many vessels have been leaving the ports and that's one of our primary things, and we also surround our focus on safety and security for the port of Honolulu.

HOLMES: And, sir, you said you'll have moved away from the water. That certainly advisable and you're advising everyone to actually do that.

How are you monitoring and able to keep up with what is coming and how will you know if it has come or not? I guess, how are you getting your updates?

FREDRICKSON: The Coast Guard works closely with our local state and federal partners and there's been extensive cooperation on the state and federal side to notify the community so that they can get to a safe area.

As far as getting information, it's the same dynamic where all of the different agencies are sharing information, our command centers are receiving that information, and that's how we're keeping track of the situation.

HOLMES: All right. Kurt Fredrickson, sir, we appreciate the update once again from you. If it's all right, we'll continue to check in as you're out there in Honolulu. Again, like you said, I think some 1,400 members of the Coast Guard out in that district. We do appreciate you, sir.

We turn to some more pictures as we continue to get this in. We're talking about Honolulu. We're talking about Hawaii. We're talking about what's coming.

This is what came in Japan. Look at this, folks. This wall of water, this was off the coast of Japan. Again, the earthquake actually struck some 80 miles out.

But that wall of water arrived and went for miles and miles inland. Look at this destruction as it picked up and took with it everything that was in its path, reports of houses. You can see cars in this debris. You see anything. There's a boat to the left side of this picture actually -- taking everything with it.

CHETRY: So, you can understand what type of relief and cleanup operations will be needed. We're hearing that according to our Barbara Starr out of the Pentagon, that the U.S. Navy is now positioning Aircraft Carrier Ronald Reagan to respond with disaster relief operations in Japan, if and when the Japanese government asks for that help. This aircraft carrier has helicopters on board as well that could help with rescues and we're getting this new information from Barbara.

Barbara, tell us a little bit more about where we're staged and how quickly we could get to help? I mean, you look at this disaster zone. It's just unimaginable how much work needs to be done.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, absolutely, right, Kiran. Let's explain to everybody -- this will begin, of course, with a Japanese government asking for assistance. The U.S. military doesn't do things in foreign countries unless they are asked for help. There is every expectation that request will be forthcoming.

A lot of this will be done by civilian international aid agencies, but the U.S. military had, like many militaries around the world, has a unique ability to help in these types of disasters when highways, roads, civilian areas are just -- airfields utterly destroyed by floods or other disasters, the tsunami and earthquake. It is going to be very tough to get around. It is going to be those heavy-lift military helicopters that will be able to get into devastated areas and drop off supplies, bring in medical assistance, get the injured out of there.

So, that is why, overnight, the U.S. military has begun to position, if you will, key assets. We've just learned in the last several minutes, indeed, the carrier Ronald Reagan in the Western Pacific, about 700 miles or so out of Japan today was headed to the Western Pacific mainly for operations off Korea. It's being repositioned, put into place so it can start steaming towards Japan in anticipation of a request from the Japanese government.

It's got the helos on board. It will be able to lend a very significant hand. Most importantly, of course, when these helos go in, what happens is hey go back to their ships to resupply to spend the night. So, they don't take up resources on shore in an area that's already devastated. They can do all of the work, look after themselves and they don't cost the Japanese government more effort to try and look after them.

Three other navy warships in the region also currently in Malaysia, in Singapore, another ship in another part of Japan are loading up with humanitarian relief supplies, making their way towards Japan. I think you will certainly begin to see the world community step up the response to this right in the coming hours -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. Thanks so much for that update. It will also be interesting to see, you know, what our national response will need to be perhaps with FEMA for Hawaii, if and when they see this devastation from the tsunami as well.

STARR: Indeed.

CHETRY: All right. Thanks, Barbara.

HOLMES: And again, we continue to keep a close eye on. This is a fast-moving story and we're getting new developments every -- literally every minute here, this earthquake and then the tsunami in Japan.

The pictures are telling the story, just incredible pictures out of there. We continue to get new ones. This is one of the newest ones we have seen. You see there it just appears a road, you know, just a wall of water has come through and you see what has happened to this road here now.

But we're expecting to get so many other pictures. We are just starting to get our first hint of just how devastating this could possibly be.

A quick break here. We'll continue to collect information. We are also standing by for the first wave expected to hit Hawaii at some point within the hour. We were standing by for it and no indications of it just yet.

Stay with us on this AMERICAN MORNING.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

HOLMES: A quarter past the hour now one on this AMERICAN MORNING. We are following a disaster that continues to develop after an 8.9 magnitude quake striking off the coast of Japan, triggers a tsunami, and that is the disaster now that continues. Another part, as you look at these pictures here, get an idea of this wave of water that sweeping everything with it across Japan. Other parts of this story are developing, as well, and another disaster could be looming.

This time, we're talking about a nuclear power plant. Japan now telling the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, that they have a heightened state of alert that has been declared at their nuclear power plant. This is a Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant after this disaster. I'm going to read here from a release I do have saying they've been told that the plant had been shut down and that there's no release of radiation necessarily. However, they still have evacuated a certainly -- roughly a three-mile radius area around it just to be safe.

But at this point, they don't believe. They don't believe that radiation has gotten out. This is the power plant. We can show you here now. At the same time, Japanese media is reporting, in fact, that a leak was possible, was possible at the plant as the water level continued to fall. We're getting this here coming to us from Reuters.

We had been keeping an eye on what's happening at this power plant, but this is the new information that Reuters is sending out. And in fact, it is possible that a leak is there, according to Japanese media. Our Kyung Lah is in Tokyo for us, as well. She was there, of course, when this quake struck.

CHETRY: Kyung, you talked a little bit about this concern as well about electrical power not being as strong as they like and telling people to stay in their homes. What else are you hearing about some of these concerns with these nuclear power plants in Japan?

KYUNG LAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on the phone): The latest information that we got came via news conference, a national news conference from Japan's chief cabinet secretary. And he said that they have ordered the evacuation of that three kilometer area primarily as a precautionary measure, but the big issue here for this particular nuclear power plant is that there's not enough power getting in.

Not enough power to cool the nuclear reactors. So, according to what the chief cabinet secretary said on television and there's national press conference, he did say that does not appear to be an immediate crisis, but, because of this lack of power and the inability to keep things cool enough inside the reactor, that's why they are ordering this evacuation. People who live outside that three kilometer area, some three to ten kilometers, they're being told to simply stay in their home.

So, at this point, this appears to be largely precautionary, but any time you deal with anything regarding a nuclear power plant and an earthquake, that raises some alarms. Most of the nuclear power plants in Japan, especially the ones have been retrofitted, are able to withstand an earthquake of about 7 or 7.2. It depends on which region of the country you're talking about. It does vary per nuclear plant.

But, in something this big, an 8.9 and even an 8.9 offshore, that certainly is going to raise some alarms because we're just not sure. That's the gray zone of how much a nuclear power plant can withstand. As far as the evacuation (ph) and what's happening with the people up in that tsunami-struck area, the latest reports that we're getting out of there is that the concern right now is that the tsunami has come ashore.

What's happening as it's pulling back, as the debris is now raking back into the ocean, into the sea. In fact, really what -- we just don't know right now. Authorities are keeping an eye on it. They're very concerned as that debris does come back because you're seeing people go through something then twice.

People are quite versed in tsunamis, but when we talk about something this devastating and this sort of a crisis that's this large in scope, you can track this and plan all you want, but certainly, when it comes to reacting to something like this, that's a whole different level, a whole different game. As far as what we're seeing here in Tokyo, it is virtually system paralysis.

We're trying to make our way up to that region. The roads are jammed. People are sleeping in subway stations. People are trying to walk, trying to get home, if they can even get there, and that's a real problem in this city of 13 million people right now.

CHETRY: All right. Kyung Lah for us. We're going to continue to check in with you as well as we continue to follow this breaking story. A lot of developments out of Japan.

Also, just to quickly update you again, parts of Hawaii bracing for any moment now the waves. They know they're coming. They don't know how strong. Right now, averaging -- the average or the prediction is around six feet, the wave six feet, still maybe about 15 to 20 minutes away from coming ashore in Hawaii. They're certainly prepped for worst case scenario.

We're going to be checking in with a couple of live reporters in just a moment, but first, to Christine, she's following how this earthquake and resulting tsunami has impacted the global markets both the economic markets, of course, but also oil.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: We're looking at the infrastructure as Kyung Lah was reporting about the nuclear infrastructure for those four of those nuclear reactor shut down. We also know there's an oil refinery that is burning, still burning right now. Oil refineries have been shut down. Factories, high-tech factories have been shut down.

So, the third largest economy in the world is paralyzed. You heard Kyung talking about the paralysis of all these people trying to figure out how to move, where to go next. So, when you have the third large economy in the world paralyzed, while the other uncertainty we've seen in the world that oil prices down.

The idea that in the very near term, at least, but for right now, demand for oil, demand for commodities from Japan, the world's third largest economy, will go down, at least, until reconstruction begins and that's why you got oil prices down here. You got stocks down, as well. The Nikkei was only open for a short time. That's the Japanese stock market index.

It was only open for a short time after the earthquake struck. You can see from that chart there what happened as investors began to react what is, obviously, going to be a very significant effect for the people of this country and for the economy of this country that sustains all of those people. In futures trading, in electronic trading, now, you have the Nikkei 225, that stock market index still continuing to go down.

Dow futures are down. Commodities are down. Interesting reaction, the Japanese yen went down and then it went up. The idea that Japan, the country, is going to have to buy back its yen to make sure that they have the money, the domestic money, for the rebuilding, eventually. So, you're seeing kind of an interesting reaction all of the markets, but I will tell you, it has been very, very heavy trading of oil.

It's been very heavy trading of stock futures. This will be certainly a very interesting day as this continues to unfold. The third largest economy in the world, it will have lasting impact here. We'll watch it.

HOLMES: But there's uncertainty now and there will be for awhile until we know exactly what was the damage, how quickly things will be up and running once again.

ROMANS: I want to make a quick point here, too, about Narita Airport. I've reported earlier that it had been closed for the day, and they had said originally the Narita Airport, the big international airport in Japan would be closed for the entire day. They are allowing some outbound flights now, folks. Some outbound flights, but the airport pointing out that the highways to the airport and the rail service to the airport are stopped.

So, that must be to get people who are there stranded at the airport out. There are no inbound flights into Narita International Airport. Those inbound flights have all been rerouted and diverted to other airports. So, there's also the international travel aspect here. And so, a lot of folks in the airports around the world trying to figure out where to go next.

CHETRY: And the scariest part out of this, that there really is very little, if any, news coming out of the areas where we see those devastating pictures.


CHETRY: Just in terms of casualty counts and in terms of how they're going to go about trying to rescue anyone who survives in that area. It's very, very terrifying, actually, to tell you the truth. Christine, thanks so much.


CHETRY: Japan's earthquake a jolt for the record books, of course. And up next, we're going to be hearing from an American living in Tokyo about just how powerful it was and what it felt like to witness, firsthand. Twenty-four minutes past the hour.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News. HOLMES: Well, coming up on the bottom of the hour here on this AMERICAN MORNING, this developing disaster still in Japan. Nightfall there. Earlier, the nation was hit by an 8.9 magnitude earthquake just off the coast about 80 miles. Rescue efforts are underway, as we speak. Hospitals reportedly overwhelmed.

Elementary schools and refuge centers full. Pictures we can show you here, the earthquake walls shaking, lights flickering. Just take a look at the power of this earthquake. A lot of buildings damaged. Some destroyed as well. We're told that Tokyo, for the most part, made it through this fairly well. Of course, they're used to having a lot of earthquakes there.

So, a lot of those buildings have been retrofitted to withstand powerful earthquakes. Japan's news agency reporting that more than 50 people have been killed, dozens injured, fires burning at more than 80 locations, as well.

Also, triggered a tsunami wall of water having -- look at this, folks. These are some of the pictures. These pictures will speak to you more than I ever could to try to describe this, but this gives you an idea of the impact these waves are having. Thirty feet in some places reported, but as they come ashore, they pick up and take with them everything in the path.

You can make out a boat, homes, cars, anything in its path being picked up and driven by a wall of water. Tsunami warnings also expected to extend, and they do extend, I should say, to Hawaii as well as the west coast of United States.

CHETRY: All right. So, as we're talking about all of this travel across, Japan is at a standstill in many places. The Tokyo subway, the train services still shut down. Very difficult to get phone calls out. A lot of problems with power. Reports are that Tokyo's main international airport has reopened for some departing flights, but all arriving flights are being redirected.

This video is not from the main airport but from another airport to the northeast where people were, as you see the water beneath, people climbed to the roof for safety. Our Kyung Lah has been reporting all morning that most of the infrastructure in Tokyo, which you're looking at pictures northeast of that, is basically intact.

And the tsunami right now is going to be hitting Hawaii. Full coastal evacuation is under way. CNN's Carter Evans is on the phone from Honolulu. So, again, right now, the tsunami waves are actually coming to shore in Hawaii?

CARTER EVANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on the phone): Yes, and I've just got confirmation of this. What they've got is they've got sea level observation stations that are reporting the wave action hitting the shores of the outer islands of Hawaii right now. Now, I asked about wave height, and they said they're really still gathering that information right now and to release any sort of wave height right now would be misleading, and here's why. As is often the case with tsunamis, the first wave is not the strongest and that may be what they're seeing right now, but we do have confirmation that the waves are coming ashore. The good news if there is any here, there was a lot of lead time and people had a lot of time to get out of the way, and people listen to these warnings here when they come to these islands.

It's something that they train kids in school as they're growing up. This is something that authorities train for, as well. So, people are getting out of harm's way. The waves are coming ashore. It's just still not clear how severe the impact is.

CHETRY: And when you talk about the waves coming to shore, what areas right now and what are they sort of expecting as the day rolls on?

EVANS: Well, you know, as I'm looking at some of the models that they have here at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, you can see the areas around the island of Kauai, touching and moving down the island chain.

How they are measuring this is with the sea level stations. These are not people actually observing it. This is equipment at sea level measuring the wave action right now. Everybody has evacuated from the shore and it's dark and kind of hard to get eyes on this thing right now. The impact and the significance of the impact we may not know for some time now.

CHETRY: Carter Evans for us there as he is reporting firsthand the first waves are coming ashore from the tsunami in Hawaii and people, for the most part, have heeded those evacuations and you're looking at pictures right now coming to us from affiliate stations in Hawaii. We will continue to monitor that. Thanks, Carter.

HOLMES: In Honolulu as well, Kurt Fredrickson with the 14th coast guard district is on the line bus. Sir, we are getting reports that, in fact, yes, the first wave has arrived. Of course, the first wave not usually going to be the biggest, but are you getting those reports as well? What can you tell us?

FREDRICKSON: I'm not getting reports of wave activity right now. What I can tell you is that our command centers have relocated. We do have our assets in a position to respond. We have 130 up over Kauai. They are ready to go and moved to a safe location and our cutters are all under way and they are out ready to respond as needed.

At this point, as you know, we're expecting activity to come in, wave activity. We are standing by. All of our assets are ready and monitoring the situation.

HOLMES: Sir, you said you are expecting. I guess what is your anticipated timeframe? I know it's hard to predict these things. What are you all estimating as far as time goes for when the waves will start rolling in and also how much time in between them?

FREDRICKSON: I can't really speak to that. We're just anticipating kind of a worst case scenario and we want to be ready for whatever happens and be able to provide assistance to whoever may need it.

HOLMES: Sir, we have appreciated you continuing to give us updates and we will continue to check in with you. Again, a chief petty officer out there has been giving us updates this morning.

We are getting from our Carter Evans who was there and being told by officials that, in fact, the first wave of the tsunami hitting the island right now. Rob Marciano is tracking this for this as well and we will check in with him after the break. But again, we are told the first wave starting to hit the island -- starting to hit Hawaii this morning but, again, the first usually not the biggest. These things come literally in patterns of minutes between them and they often can get larger so we are still standing by with Hawaii in the crosshairs on this "American Morning."


CHETRY: We want to update you on the breaking news we've been following. And developments are coming in fast and furious this morning. Japan now ordering an evacuation of a three kilometer, 1.6 mile area around the Fukushima nuclear reactor Friday. We spoke with Kyung Lah about this. Part of the concern there may not be enough power to get to the parts that cool the nuclear reactor.

And so for precaution's sake they say no problem right now with anything happening but they want to for precaution's sake make sure people are out of that area in case they have problems with the cooling system.

HOLMES: In Tokyo the power is out in many areas. Some estimates that some 4 million people in the surrounding area without power and some 13 million in Tokyo itself. Our Kyung Lah was there when this earthquake struck, our reporter there. She says this rattling went on up to two minutes possibly. She says there was not really significant damage you can see in the city of Tokyo, reports of buildings with cracks in them. But certainly nothing like what we are seeing just north of Tokyo.

CHETRY: Right now, talking about the threat of tsunamis. Right now warnings in effect for nearly 20 countries. In Hawaii these are live picture right now and these are the first pictures coming in where the waves are in, indeed, hitting the shores of parts of Hawaii. We have live reporters there and we will be checking in in just a moment.

HOLMES: We'll keep a close eye on that. Let's check in with Ed Henry. The president is keeping a close eye on what is happening. The president can send out his condolences and have his heart go out for this situation. But what also is the president doing to put things in place to help out?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You're right. He is trying to get on top of that situation, started very early for the president. We're told he was woken up at 4:00 a.m. eastern time by his chief of staff Bill Daley to inform him what is going on with the earthquake in Japan.

The subsequent tsunamis, as well as tsunami warnings affecting the U.S. in the pacific, some of the west coast states, in addition to Hawaii. We are also seeing on the blog of the FEMA director, Craig Fugate, who is reminding everyone who lives in these areas like Hawaii following the struck and saying, quote, "If told to evacuate, evacuate."

The president noted in a written statement he had instructed FEMA to get on top of the situation and helps spread the word to people in the affected areas.

You noted the president said in his statement he was going to be making sure the U.S. government was sending aid to the Japanese people and words of support saying, quote, "Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to the people of Japan and particularly those who lost loved ones in the earthquake and tsunami. The friendship is unshakeable and only strengthens our resolve to stand with the people of Japan to overcome this tragedy."

This president has already visited while in office visited Japan twice already. That gives you an idea of the close bond between the two nations. The president was born in Hawaii, -- pardon me -- spent a great deal of his childhood and early years as well growing up in Hawaii. So this, obviously, affects him in a personal way and I suspect we will hear some of that this morning a little bit later at 11:15 a.m. eastern time.

The president was already scheduled to have a news conference here. White house aides said last night, he wanted to talk about rising gas prices here in the U.S. and other issues, but, obviously, you can bet this is going to be at the top of that news conference as well, T.J.

HOLMES: Ed Henry from the White House for us this morning, we appreciate you, ed.

HENRY: Thank you.

CHETRY: In the past couple of minutes we got the first waves from the tsunami are washing up on the shores of Hawaii. Rob Marciano is keeping track of this for us. We see that picture and it. It obviously doesn't look to be terribly devastating. As you have pointed out before, though, the first waves could be the least of it?

MARCIANO: It totally depends on where that camera is located. Is it Waikiki? I'm looking. There are areas of Hawaii and around Honolulu have bays and other things that would protect that. I can tell you this. The people that I've called, a lot of them have moved away from the shore and it's dark so it's hard to get confirmation as far as visibly what they have seen and experienced.

But just now released we're getting some information from some of the tidal gauges around Honolulu and Kauai. The southern part of Kauai would be the more protected part shows tidal rise 1.6 feet so that is somewhat encouraging. Barbara's Point which is basically right -- is the point around Pearl Harbor, so just to the west of Honolulu saw a rise of 2.3 feet, also encouraging. As you've pointed out throughout the morning, there will be multiple waves to this. So we're not done with this. We really have to shake this through for a good couple of hours before we can say this is all done.

What I'm concerned about is what has happened on the north shore. If we're getting readings around two or so feet on the southeastern and southwestern shores, the more protected shores, that means the north shores likely are seeing higher levels than that. And so we will have to flush this information out and see what we start to gather for reports.

Luckily, the more populated areas on these two islands is on the southeast shore. But right now, the tidal gauges are showing a two foot rise on the southeastern facing shores of both Kauai and Oahu.

HOLMES: Rob, we appreciate you being on top of this for us this morning, thank you.

MARCIANO: You bet.

CHETRY: Now we're going to check in with Barbara Starr. She's been monitoring the latest information she's getting from the military about relief efforts and help going to Japan. Hi, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Hello again to you. A bit of different news at this hour to report. The U.S. Navy has just confirmed to CNN that the first U.S. Navy warship on the west coast has been ordered to get out of port.

This is the USS Dubuque. It has been docked in Seal Beach, California, just outside of Los Angeles. Seal Beach is an area where the Navy pulls in. It's an ammunition depot. They take on ammunition there and then move out to sea.

This is an area where I grew up so I can talk about this. This is a part of the southern craft coastline that is very exposed. Casey Wian has been reporting this morning, there is a good deal of concern about flooding coming to this area of the southern California coastline because it is so shallow and it is so exposed.

So the USS Dubuque now ordered to put out to sea and get away from this area. But by contrast, about 60 miles to the south, we don't expect to see Navy warships try and leave San Diego. That is a much more sheltered part of the coastline. They are going to try to ride it out in San Diego so far. But the first warship now putting out to sea in California, getting out of the way of whatever is coming. T.J., Kiran?

CHETRY: On one hand, we are prepping to help over in Japan with the deployment of some of our other ships and in some cases trying to get ours out of harm's way?

STARR: That is exactly what is going on the last several hours. Several Navy ships in the Pacific, including the carrier Ronald Reagan trying to steam towards Japan to offer help with their helicopters, their humanitarian relief supplies. But coming the other way from Japan towards Guam, Hawaii, the west coast of the United States, the U.S. military trying to get their ships out of the way.

And one reason we saw two U.S. Navy submarines that were pier side in Guam ripped loose from their mooring and suffered a little bit of damage but they couldn't quite ride it all out. These are very expensive assets and they want to get them out of the way but be ready to be on standby to move back in, in some relief effort is needed in the United States. Back to you guys.

CHETRY: Thanks, Barbara.

HOLMES: We are about a quarter to the top of the hour here. We continue to keep a close eye on what is happening in Hawaii as we are getting reports from the officials the first waves are starting to show up. We are monitoring that and also we'll hear more from the State Department about the U.S. response. Stay with us on this "American Morning."


CHETRY: Forty-six minutes past the hour. We're continuing to follow the latest with the Japanese earthquake and the resulting tsunami. And right now, the Hawaiian Islands are on high alert as dangerous tsunami waves begin to wash ashore.

Earlier this morning the response in Washington to the disaster that may follow a tsunami was pretty swift.

Our Jill Dougherty is at the State Department right now. So this is interesting because this is a multifaceted situation. I mean, emergency relief efforts, obviously, needed for Japan but we're also watching our own coast, both California and Hawaii.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Exactly Kiran. And you know, now you see what the State Department really does. There are two things, one is they are offering assistance to the Japanese government and perhaps maybe later to other governments but, at this point, specifically to the Japanese government; the U.S. Ambassador talking to the foreign minister and making that very clear.

And then the other thing the State Department does is look out for U.S. citizens who are there or who might be traveling. And in that connection they have issued a travel alert.

It's a very specific thing; it has a lot of good information telling Americans to avoid travel to the region. They mention that the airports are closed. Transportation very bad, roads can be damaged, et cetera. And they also note that there can be strong aftershocks for weeks after this, so urging them not to go.

Also telling American citizens in Japan to contact their families if they can by any means; it can be SMS if they can't get any telephone lines or cell lines. And now also we've put a kind of consolidated list of numbers and contacts, et cetera, and maybe we can tick through those. They're -- they're useful for people.

If -- let's -- let's go through the e-mails. If you need information or help, if you're there or you need information on family who might be there, if you're in Japan, there's an e-mail address And then also, if you're outside of the region, there is another e-mail

Then there is also telephone lines from the U.S. You can call 888-407-4747. And if you're abroad, it's 1-202-501-4444. And then there's a Web site. And this is where you can get a lot of information in one place, -- And then finally, Twitter,

So there's a lot of information on various platforms and anyone who needs any help or wants to get information on their loved ones can contact those numbers and get some help.

CHETRY: All right, that's great information because I know we have a lot of people e-mailing us this morning still trying to find out info, especially as they are dealing with a -- a little bit of break in communications because of the phone lines. Thanks so much, Jill.

Again, we're following breaking news: the 8.9 magnitude quake which rocked Japan this morning. Japan has asked U.S. forces to help with relief efforts. Rescuers are frantically searching for people either trapped under damaged or collapsed buildings and debris or perhaps looking for people who have been washed away because of those massive floodwaters that came through because of the tsunami.

According to Japan's national police, 64 people have been killed, another 57 missing but it's important to note that these numbers are very preliminary and unfortunately, likely to rise significantly.

HOLMES: Also, Hawaii is the place we've been keeping a close on for the past, I guess, hour you could say or so because the first waves are starting to show up of this tsunami. It's dark there and certainly now.

But this is a live picture. It's hard to make out exactly. I mean, it's hard to -- to judge what exactly you're seeing there with the water but officials are telling us there that in fact the first waves are starting to show up. Important to note the first wave usually not the strongest. These come in cycles so we're going to see several of them more than likely and they could get stronger.

Some areas predicted could see waves between six to eight feet. National Weather Service reporting that waves could hit Oregon and California this morning somewhere between 7:15 to 7:30 local time, that's Pacific Time. So at 7:15 to 7:30 Pacific Time and it would be around 10:00 Eastern Time.

President Obama also instructing FEMA to be prepared and to help Hawaii and other U.S. regions that could be affected by this disaster.

CHETRY: Also he says the United States stands ready to help the Japanese people and they've put those words into action as we heard from our Barbara Starr, getting several U.S., USS ships including the "Ronald Reagan" as well as others to get relief out there.

Meantime, the first wave of the tsunami bearing down on Hawaii right now; we're going to be getting an update from the U.S. Geological Survey on the seismic event that rocked Japan and the Pacific. We'll be right back.


HOLMES: And we're just a few minutes to the top of the hour here. These are live pictures you are looking at, this is on the island of Oahu, correct me, if I'm wrong anybody in the back but I think I'm in the right place here. This is Diamond Head Beach, we are getting reports that the first waves are actually starting to come in here.

CHETRY: Yes, what -- what they're saying is that the -- on this beach at Diamond Head they've seen the -- the waters actually recede some 300 feet. Typically, indicative of perhaps a large wave getting ready to come through. So, again, that is a look at Diamond Head.

This is past Waikiki on the island of Oahu east. And again, these are just pictures that we're seeing. We have not gotten any information on exactly what damage or exactly what they are seeing other than these pictures.

So, again, about a 300-foot recession of -- of the shoreline indicative of perhaps a big wave coming through. So that is what we know there.

And unfortunately, we're getting some -- some disturbing news out of Japan as well. According to Japan's Kyoto News Agency, police in one area say that between 200 to 300 bodies have been found in a coastal city of Sendai alone. That is where we saw some of those very disturbing pictures of that wall of water just washing through the farmland.

They expect the casualty counts, unfortunately, to go much higher because of that devastation.

HOLMES: It's five minutes to the top of the hour.

We want to bring in one more time Mr. David Applegate; he's with the U.S. Geological Survey. Sir, we have been watching as we keep this live picture of this wave making its way into Hawaii now.

The -- this -- the power of this earthquake, the factors we talk about the magnitude but what were the other factors that make this a historic event and triggered what is a massive tsunami, certainly in Japan but we're waiting to see just how powerful it might be when it washes up in Hawaii or even the west coast of the U.S.?

DAVID APPLEGATE, U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY: Well, magnitude certainly is -- is one -- is one measure of the scale of an event, but, you know, other factors are, of course, once you have one earthquake of this size, you're going to have many, many, many aftershocks and that's what Japan is dealing with, even as they are trying to -- to handle the response from the first event.

We have seen earthquakes over magnitude 7 just as aftershocks and of course over a dozen, there are magnitudes 6 or greater so that's causing a huge challenge.

The other piece is this was under sea. It was on the one of the subduction (ph) zones where the earth's plates are coming together and so, as a result, you're getting -- I mean, you are -- you are somewhat more removed from population as opposed to an earthquake like, for example, the Christchurch went right underneath a city, but you're going to get that major movement of water and, of course, we're seeing just how efficient water is at transmitting seismic energy across the entire Pacific.

HOLMES: All right. Sir, we're going to have to leave it there. You've been with us through this morning. We appreciated your expertise this morning and we absolutely do appreciate you. Thank you so much.

But again, as we leave up this live picture this is what we're watching in Hawaii; the first wave starting to show up in Hawaii. This was expected to start somewhere around 8:00 Eastern Time, the first wave. So, in fact, we've gotten confirmation from officials.

Now, just looking at that it's kind to hard to make out and you -- you might think it just looks like any beach but what we are watching on confirmation and getting confirmation from officials that we're starting to see the first wave. That first wave not necessarily the strongest you'll see. These are -- usually comes, these tsunamis in a series of waves.

Reports that they could be up to six feet in some areas predicted but we are just seeing this begin. Also some of the reports that we got that the water was beginning to recede. We've been getting those reports for a little while now. When you hear that, but that is usually a first sign, a foreshadowing, if you will, of what's to come. The water recedes and then the wave comes. We could be watching for that some time. Again, just getting started in Hawaii.

CHETRY: That's right. And we also want to show you again the pictures of perhaps the most dramatic pictures of the morning that were taken in Sendai. This is about 60-some miles northeast of Tokyo. They really received the brunt of the tsunami as it came in through this just this huge wave and really washed away every structure, every vehicle in its path.

We are just getting the first casualty counts from police there according to the Kyoto News Agency that 200 to 300 bodies have been found in that coastal city.

Thanks so much for being with us this morning. CNN is going to continue to provide breaking news throughout the morning on this situation. We hand it over to the "NEWSROOM" and Kate Bolduan and Hala Gorani. It starts after a quick break.