Tsunami warning on B.C. coast after large earthquake southeast of Alaska

A tsunami warning is in effect for coastal British Columbia and parts of Alaska after a powerful earthquake struck, about 250 kilometres southeast of Chiniak, Alaska.

The quake struck at 1:31 a.m. PT Tuesday and prompted a tsunami warning for the entire B.C. coast and a tsunami watch for the entire U.S. west coast, the U.S. Tsunami Warning System said. 

The U.S. Geological Survey initially reported the quake’s strength at 8.2 early Tuesday and later downgraded that to 7.9 with a depth of 25 kilometres. At least three aftershocks have been reported.

Environment Canada says the tsunami warning covers the Central Coast and Northeast Vancouver Island coast, including Kitimat Bella Coola and Port Hardy.

The weather agency says people in coastal areas are at risk and should move to high ground now and heed further instruction from local authorities.

Emergency Info BC, directed by the province’s lead agency for disaster management, says there is also a tsunami warning in effect for the Juan de Fuca Strait coast, the outer west coast of Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii.

The emergency agency for Tofino, B.C. on Vancouver Island tweeted a photo of people gathering in an evacuation centre. Tofino Emergency said the first wave was due to arrive at 3:40 a.m. PT.

Tsunami sirens went off on two of the main beaches of the town, where most resorts are located and where many residents live, said Dan Banks, a public works employee in Tofino.

“If you’re in a threat zone, you want to evacuate inland or for higher ground, or depending on your situation, to a multi-storey building, a higher floor of a multi-storey building,” said Mike Gismondi, a meteorologist with Environment Canada in Vancouver.

The Emergency Info BC warning said people should move away from the water, off beaches, and away from harbours, marinas, breakwaters, bays and inlets. Boat operators should move their boats out to sea to a depth of at least 55 metres.

Tofino Emergency said powerful currents are possible and may continue for several hours after the initial wave arrival.

Trevor Jarvis, the emergency co-ordinator for the Village of Masset on the north end of Haida Gwaii, said he sent out an emergency text to residents and set off the tsunami emergency siren just after 2 a.m. local time on Tuesday. Everyone on the north end of the village was told to get to higher ground.

The quake struck  280 kilometres southeast of Kodiak, Alaska. People reported on social media that it was felt hundreds of kilometres away in Anchorage. Some said they saw the water retreating in Kodiak harbour, a possible sign that strong waves could return.

The U.S. Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre issued a tsunami watch for the state of Hawaii, which was later cancelled.

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