A tsunami warning triggered by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake caused many Kodiak locals to seek safety on higher ground late Tuesday night in fear of destructive ocean waves that never arrived. The warning was cancelled later that night, with no reported injuries or damage.
Against a backdrop of blaring tsunami sirens and the drone of aircraft flying overhead, locals who live and work in low-lying areas close to the ocean made their way by vehicle and on foot to higher ground.
Meanwhile, many fishermen who had access to their boats sailed out to deeper water, between 300 and 400 feet deep, about 3 miles from the city’s harbor, according to a local fisherman.
Captain Cy St-Amand said that he saw 14 other vessels around his boat in deeper water until the U.S. Coast Guard gave the all-clear.
The earthquake occurred 75 miles south of Chignik at 10:13 p.m., triggering a tsunami warning for communities across coastal Alaska — from the Aleutian Islands to the Alaska Peninsula.
Although tsunamis were predicted to hit Kodiak at 12:05 a.m., as well as other locations throughout the Aleutian Island chain at varying times, Sand Point was the only area to see tsunami activity.
According to the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, waves measuring 0.8 feet, or 25 centimeters, reached Sand Point at 11:04 p.m.
During the earthquake, strong shaking was reported from Perryville and Sand Point to King Cove and Cold Bay.
Weak shaking was felt more than 500 miles away in the Mat-Su and Anchorage areas, wrote State Seismologist Michael West on the Alaska Earthquake Center’s website.
He also said that Tuesday’s earthquake released roughly 15 times more energy than the 7.0 Anchorage earthquake in 2018.
Here in Kodiak, the Emergency Operations Center urged residents in low-lying areas to evacuate to the Kodiak High School, Main Elementary and the parking lots of businesses along parts of Mill Bay Road, such as Safeway and Walmart.
The EOC received an initial tsunami warning at 10:13 p.m. of a 7.4 magnitude earthquake, which was later upgraded to 7.8 magnitude.
School Superintendent Larry LeDoux said that after receiving notice of the tsunami warning, school staff raced to the various schools throughout town to help shelter residents.
“Our doors were open well before the first siren went off,” LeDoux said.
He estimated that about 300 people evacuated to the high school gym and over 100 people sat in their cars in the parking lot, while school staff handed out face masks.
LeDoux described the scene as being like a park, with people behaving calmly and sitting in small groups. He noted that Kodiak residents handled the tsunami scare well, adding that tsunami warnings are typical in the area.
“I’ve done many of these, but we have a great group of people,” LeDoux said. “Kodiak shines when there is a challenge like this."
Although many people also sought safety on Pillar Mountain, Kodiak Emergency Services Council Director Mike Tvenge does not recommend that area for evacuation.
“In the summertime it’s a different story, but at the winter time there is a lot of risk,” he said, adding that people would be subject to cold temperatures for however long the evacuation and tsunami warning would last.
The Kodiak EOC received four updates throughout the night from the State EOC and was in constant contact with the National Tsunami Warning Center.
Despite the information on various websites and media platforms, Tvenge reiterated that the Kodiak EOC is the only agency that can issue an all-clear for a tsunami because “we monitor ourselves,” he said.
The EOC issued the all-clear at 12:42 p.m. and sent observers to check areas on the road toward Bells Flats for rockslides resulting from the earthquake.
Unlike Perryville, a town out the Aleutian chain that experienced rockslides and beaches that subsided into the ocean, Kodiak reported no rockslides or other damage.
“I think it went very well last night,” Tvenge said about the city’s response to the tsunami warning. “The EOC has been active now for about 130 days. We all showed up and jumped right into our roles. It was pretty smooth … it was a good response.”
The Kodiak Police Department sounded sirens and honked their car horns to wake up sleeping residents, while the city’s fire department, whose station is located in a tsunami inundation zone, moved its large equipment to the municipal airport for safety.
Tvenge said new tsunami sirens are scheduled to arrive later this fall. They will have more capabilities than the current sirens, such as voice messaging and a variety of sounds.