The tsunami from Chile's devastating earthquake hit Japan's main islands and the shores of Russia on Sunday, but the smaller-than-expected waves prompted the lifting of a Pacific-wide alert. Hawaii and other Pacific islands were also spared.

Hundreds of thousands of people fled shorelines for higher ground after the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii warned 53 nations and territories that a tsunami had been generated by Saturday's magnitude-8.8 quake.

In Japan, the biggest wave hit the northern island of Hokkaido. There were no immediate reports of damage from the four-foot wave, though some piers were briefly flooded. As it crossed the Pacific, the tsunami dealt populated areas — including the U.S. state of Hawaii — only a glancing blow.

The tsunami raised fears Pacific nations could suffer from disastrous waves like those that killed 230,000 people around the Indian Ocean in December 2004, which happened with little-to-no warning and much confusion about the impending waves.

Officials said the opposite occurred after the Chile quake: They overstated their predictions of the size of the waves and the threat.

Japan, fearing the tsunami could gain force as it moved closer, put all of its eastern coastline on tsunami alert and ordered hundreds of thousands of residents in low-lying areas to seek higher ground as waves raced across the Pacific at hundreds of km per hour.

Japan is particularly sensitive to the tsunami threat.

In July 1993 a tsunami triggered by a major earthquake off Japan's northern coast killed more than 200 people on the small island of Okushiri. A stronger quake near Chile in 1960 created a tsunami that killed about 140 people in Japan.

By the time the tsunami hit Hawaii — a full 16 hours after the quake —officials had already spent the morning blasting emergency sirens, blaring warnings from airplanes and ordering residents to higher ground. The Navy moved a half dozen vessels out of Pearl Harbor and a cruiser out of Naval Base San Diego to avoid the surge.

Picturesque beaches were desolate, million-dollar homes were evacuated, shops in Waikiki were closed and residents filled supermarkets and gas stations to stock up on supplies. But after the morning scare, the islands were back to paradise by the afternoon.

Waves hit California, but barely registered amid stormy weather.

In Tonga, where up to 50,000 people fled inland hours ahead of the tsunami, the National Disaster Office had reports of a wave up to 6.5 feet high hitting a small northern island, said an official. There were no initial indications of damage.

At least 20,000 people abandoned their homes in southeastern Philippine villages and took shelter in government buildings or fled to nearby mountains overnight.

Indonesia, which suffered the brunt of the 2004 disaster, had been included in the tsunami warning on Saturday, but officials said there was no risk for the archipelago as it was too far from the quake's epicentre.

On New Zealand's Chatham Islands earlier Sunday, officials reported a wave measured at 6.6 feet (two meters). No damage was reported in Australia from small waves that were recorded in New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and Norfolk Island, about 1,600 km northeast of Sydney.

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