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Natural disasters

Authorities warn of tsunami after magnitude 8.2 quake strikes off coast of Alaska

Warnings from the National Weather Service sent to cellphones in Alaska warned: “Emergency Alert. Tsunami danger on the coast. Go to high ground or move inland.”

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 January, 2018, 6:32pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 January, 2018, 10:48pm

An earthquake with a magnitude of 8.2 struck off Alaska’s Kodiak Island early on Tuesday, prompting a tsunami warning for a large swathe of coastal Alaska and Canada’s British Columbia while the remainder of the US west coast was under a watch.

The strong earthquake hit at 12.32am and was recorded about 175 miles southeast of Kodiak Island. Warnings from the National Weather Service sent to cellphones in Alaska warned: “Emergency Alert. Tsunami danger on the coast. Go to high ground or move inland.”

Kodiak officials warned residents to evacuate if they lived in low-lying areas.

About two hours after the quake, the city of Kodiak, which was projected to see the first wave at about 1.45am, still had no reports of a wave hitting.

Lieutenant Tim Putney of the Kodiak Police Department said: “We haven’t seen anything yet or had any reports of a wave.”

However, officials were telling people to hold fast at evacuation centres until further notice. He said the town has several shelters above the 100-foot mark, and they were still encouraging people below that level to evacuate.

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The earthquake woke Putney up out of a dead sleep, and he estimates it shook for at least 30 seconds.

“I’ve been Kodiak for 19 years that was the strongest, longest lasting one I’ve ever felt,” he said by telephone.

But he said the police department has received no reports of damage.

The Alaska Earthquake Information Centre said the quake was felt widely in several communities on the Kenai Peninsula and throughout southern Alaska. People reported on social media that the quake was felt hundreds of miles away, in Anchorage.

Kerry Seifert, an emergency management specialist in the state emergency operations centre, said the timeline for initial waves reaching some communities had passed.

“This is almost too soon to be into it to get that kind of information,” he said. “And certainly, communities are climbing hills, some of them.”

Larry LeDoux, superintendent of the Kodiak Island Borough School District, said schools were open as shelters and estimated there were about 500 people at the high school.

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He described the atmosphere inside as calm, with people waiting for any updates.

He said sirens go off in the community every week, as a test to make sure they are working. He said the sirens were sounded for the early Tuesday tsunami warning.

Keith Perkins, who lives in the southeast Alaska community of Sitka, arrived at the high school early Tuesday morning, after an alarm on his cellphone alerted him of the tsunami warning. He says the city’s sirens also went off later.

He said people on Facebook were chattering back and forth about whether this was real or not and what they should do.

Given the magnitude of the earthquake, Perkins said he thought it best to head to school, the tsunami evacuation point, even though in the past he felt his home was at a “high-enough spot.”

“I figured I’d probably just better play it safe,” he said.