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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama says the earthquake and tsunami in Japan are a potentially “catastrophic” disaster, and he says his thoughts and prayers are with the Japanese people.

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Speaking at a White House news conference, Obama says the U.S. is prepared to send whatever assistance Japan requests. He says one aircraft carrier is already in Japan and another is on its way.

Tsunami waves have also swamped Hawaii beaches and grazed the West Coast. Obama says that his administration is monitoring the impact of the tsunami on the U.S. closely. He told residents to take warnings from local officials seriously and evacuate if told to do so.

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