Soon after a massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake hit Japan, a tsunami warning was issued for much of the West Coast.
Residents were warned to heed calls for evacuation as initial tsunami waves spawned by the quake started to hit Hawaii and California.
Waves at least 11 feet high first rushed ashore on the island of Kauai. By midmorning, the high tide reached the Oregon border and worked its way toward California. Scientists said the initial set of waves usually aren't the strongest, and urged residents to be cautious.
"The tsunami warning is not over," Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie said. "We are seeing significant adverse activity, particularly on Maui and the Big Island. By no means are we clear in the rest of the state as well."Residents braced for the worst.
Some surfers ignored evacuation requests and took on the huge waves. Others poured to the beach to watch, which can be just as dangerous.
At least five people were swept out to sea as they stood on the shore. Four of them were rescued, but the Coast Guard is still searching for one man.
The warnings were issued in the dark of night, but people rushed out to prepare.
"We just heard about the tsunami watch. So, you know, trying to get gassed up and being prepared before anything really happens. Just be safe than sorry," said Hawaii resident Barry Murata.
Hawaiians were particularly worried because tsunamis can be both high and wide.
"Tsunami waves because they're so long, and their wavelengths are actually longer than our islands are wide," explained Chip McCreary of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. "So these waves very efficiently wrap around the islands and affect all the shores."
Pacific means "peaceful and placid," but on Friday marinas were anything but that, as rough waters knocked around docked boats and yachts.
In Washington, President Barack Obama said the U.S. Would contribute to whatever aid Japan needs.
"The Japanese people are such close friends of ours, and I have such a close personal friendship and connection to the Japanese people, in part because I grew up in Hawaii where I was very familiar with Japanese culture," Obama said. "I'm heartbroken by this tragedy."
FEMA administrator Craig Fugate said they are "closely monitoring the effects of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami."