Hawaii was briefly under a tsunami watch early this morning following a magnitude 7.9 earthquake off Alaska late Monday.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, which issued the watch at 11:43 p.m. Monday, canceled the alert at 1:10 a.m.
PTWC officials initially said that if tsunami waves were to impact the state, the estimated earliest arrival would have been 4:23 a.m.
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The U.S. Geological Survey initially estimated the quake at magnitude 8.2, but downgraded it to 7.9 magnitude. The USGS said it struck at about 11:31 p.m. Hawaii time and was centered 161 miles southeast of Chiniak, Alaska, at a depth of about 15.5 miles. There have been several aftershocks, including one with a 5.6 magnitude.
The 7.9-magnitude earthquake prompted a tsunami warning for a large swath of coastal Alaska and Canada’s British Columbia while the U.S. West Coast was placed under a watch. The National Tsunami Center canceled that warning by 2:30 a.m., but officials said that a tsunami advisory remained for part of the state. There were no initial reports of unusual waves in Alaska after 1:45 a.m., the earliest potential arrival time for the first tsunami.
The Associated Press reported alerts from the National Weather Service sent to cellphones in Alaska had 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. A dispatcher at the Kodiak police department answered a call from the AP by saying, “If this about the tsunami, you need to get to higher ground immediately.”
People reported on social media that the quake was felt hundreds of miles away in Anchorage.
Larry LeDoux, superintendent of the Kodiak Island Borough School District, says schools were open as shelters. He estimated there were about 500 people at the high school an described the atmosphere inside as calm, with people waiting for updates. He said sirens were sounded for the tsunami warning.
Keith Perkins, who lives in the southeast Alaska community of Sitka, arrived at a high school early this morning, after an alarm on his cellphone alerted him of the tsunami warning. He said 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.
He said police officers were directing traffic and the parking lot at the school was filling up. He said he saw some people carrying suitcases or backpacks. Perkins said he didn’t bring anything along.
Today’s brief scare for Hawaii comes just 10 days after the state’s Emergency Management Agency mistakenly sent out an incoming missile alert to cell phones across the state. In the aftermath of that panic-inducing error, many people questioned whether the public’s trust in Hawaii’s disaster-warning system has been eroded.
The USGS also reported this morning that a magnitude 3.7 quake struck about 59 miles north of Hilo at 11:37 p.m. Monday at a depth of 47 miles.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.