WASHINGTON - A tsunami was generated on Saturday that could cause damage along the coasts of all the Hawaiian islands, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.

Urgent action should be taken to protect lives and property, the center said in a bulletin. All shores are at risk no matter which direction they face.

The center has issued a Pacific-wide tsunami warning that included Hawaii and stretched across the ocean from South America to the Pacific Rim.

Geophysicist Victor Sardina said the Hawaii-based center was urging all countries included the warning to take the threat very seriously.

Everybody is under a warning because the wave, we know, is on its way. Everybody is at risk now, he said in a telephone interview.

The warning follows a massive earthquake in Chile that killed at least 78 people and triggered tsunamis up and down the coast of the earthquake-prone country.

The center estimates the first tsunami, which is a series of several waves in succession, will hit Hawaii at 11:19 a.m. Hawaii time (4 p.m. EST).

Sardina said the Hawaiian islands could expect waves of six feet (two meters) in some places. Other estimates have been higher but he could not confirm those were likely.

Sardina said the center was looking at Hilo Bay on Hawaii Island as a worst-case scenario right now.

The shape of the bay favors the waves gaining in height, he said in a telephone interview.

He said California and Alaska could also be affected, but the impact on those coasts should be minimal.

(Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Vicki Allen)