Santa Monica Traffic Officer Carl Nicita (center) assists people exiting the Santa Monica Pier during the tsunami alert on Friday morning. The pier was closed for several hours as public safety officials braced for a possible tsunami following the devastating earthquake in Japan. (photo by Brandon Wise)

SM BEACH — The Santa Monica Pier and beach parking lots were closed for several hours Friday morning as residents and public safety officials braced for a possible tsunami following a magnitude 8.9 earthquake that struck Japan.

Small surges of ocean water hit the Southern California coast, but no significant damage was reported.

SMPD Sgt. Jay Trisler said portions of the pier were reopened just after 10 a.m. and access to the west end of the pier and beach parking lots was restored just after noon.

The earthquake, which caused a 30-foot tsunami to hit Japan, has killed more than 300 people there. It is believed to be the strongest earthquake ever to strike near Japan, and the fifth largest in history.

The American Red Cross of Santa Monica is accepting donations to help the citizens of Japan impacted by the devastating earthquake. Donations can be mailed or dropped by the chapter at 1450 11th St. during regular business hours, said Red Cross Executive Director John Pacheco. Donations should be earmarked “Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami.”

Volunteers who wish to help the Red Cross can call (310) 394-3773 or go online at

The first waves generated by the tsunami reached Southland beaches around 8:30 a.m., and while they generated some rough currents, the waves were not unusually large. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the highest recorded wave to hit Santa Monica was measured at 2.4 feet tall.

No significant changes in the size of the waves could be seen from Palisades Park, where several people gathered, including Modesto Fernandez, a Las Vegas resident visiting Santa Monica. Fernandez grew up in San Francisco and loves the ocean, making trips to the coast as often as he can to soak in the sun and the surf.

“I just came down here to check out the ocean and then I hear about this tsunami,” he said as he watched waves roll over the breakwater just north of the pier. “This is a once in a lifetime thing. Definitely worth missing breakfast for.”

Although the waves appeared benign, officials advised people to stay away from beaches around the Southland and stay out of the water as currents can be hazardous to swimmers, boaters and could continue for several hours after the initial waves arrived. And at harbors and marinas, people were reminded to follow Coast Guard and harbor master recommendations. No evacuations were ordered.

Although the surface of the water may appear normal, much of the action caused by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami took place under the surface in the form of riptides and currents.

The Coast Guard was watching for boats breaking free from moorings, and encouraged boat-owners to double-up lines on their vessels, said Adam Eggers, spokesperson for the Coast Guard in Southern California.

Many boats in marinas in Santa Cruz and Ventura had boats free-floating, and some sunk.

“Our big concern is that we’re going to have 50 boats on the shore, spilling oil and gas,” Eggers said.

Staff writer Ashley Archibald contributed to this report.

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