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Pacific braces for tsunami after Chile quake

Governments worldwide scramble to prepare for a looming threat.

Included in the list of countries that could be affected by the tsunami were Mexico, Japan, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and almost all Central America.

The center’s warnings serve as advice to national governments, which have the sole authority to make decisions regarding the state of alert in their areas.

Mexico did not immediately evacuate any of the fishing villages, tourist resorts or industrial ports along its vast Pacific coast that stretches from California to Guatemala.

However, local civil protection officials said they were tracking the nearby sea movement.

“We are carefully monitoring the coastal zone. Up until now all is reported calm,” said Cesar Narvaez, who heads civil protection in the southern state of Oaxaca.

In Hawaii, officials blasted sirens from the early morning warning people to prepare for the waves that were predicted to hit close to midday local time. But it also stopped short of a full-scale evacuation.

In Panama, which contains the shortest point between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the government said it was on top alert.

“Panama is in a state of vigilance,” said Arturo Alvarado, who head of the National Civil Protection Agency.

Tsunami warnings bring back memories of the catastrophic 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, a 9.2-magnitude tremor that left some 230,000 dead in 14 countries, including Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Following that disaster, governments and international agencies have poured millions of dollars into bolstering response mechanisms and defenses.

The United States’ own Pacific Tsunami Warning Center doubled its staff from eight to 15 and kept its watch up to 24 hours a day from 2005.

U.S. Aid also put money into a regional Tsunami Early Warning System across Latin America.

The latest earthquake of Chile may be a test of how effective these systems are in saving lives from devastating waves.