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7.9 earthquake hits Alaska prompting Tsunami

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Early Tuesday morning, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck off Alaska’s Kodiak Island. The earthquake triggered a series of tsunami warnings from southern Alaska all the way down to northern coast of America. Many people residing in low-lying communities were prompted to seek shelter on higher ground, though these fears turned out to be unwarranted. The initial worry of the earthquake causing a massive tsunami turned out to be nothing, with no destructive waves reaching coastal Alaska or Hawaii.

The earthquake struck at 12:31 AM local time, about 181 miles southeast of Kodiak, Alaska at an ocean depth of 6.5 miles. It was initially reported that the quake was measured at a magnitude of 8.2, with at least 17 aftershocks with magnitudes ranging in the 4-5 range. Eddie Athey, a fire chief in the town of Seward, Alaska, told reporters the quake lasted for somewhere around 90 seconds and “felt like the washer was off balance.” His community was able to conduct a civil and controlled evacuation, which he praised them for.

After the quake, a tsunami warnings was issued for the coastal areas of Washington state and Northern California. The earliest wave was predicted to make land in Kodiak, Alaska by 1:45 AM. Warning sirens erupted across the city, warning it 6,100 inhabitants of the potential incoming wave. By 2:30 AM local time, police officers had reported that water had been receding from the harbor, with the danger seemingly gone.

For those who had to evacuate, they had to deal with temperatures hovering around zero to below zero Fahrenheit. Alaskans piled into cars and school buses, in hopes of finding higher ground. Some made their way up Pillar Mountain in Anchorage, others took shelter in schools that had become evacuation centers. Fran Latham, an Anchorage local who runs a bed-and-breakfast said, “Everybody had to evacuate. It looked like everybody was at the school and the police department.”

Michael Specking, another Anchorage local who works at the Hotel Captain Cook said, “It was pretty crazy because for a while I just had to calm the people down. Everyone in the hotel called down at once. Everyone kind of freaked out because of that alert.”

About 188 nautical miles of the southeast coast of Cordova, Alaska, a buoy recorded a 30-foot wave around the time of the earthquake, but the data is still to be determined if it was caused by the quake. NBC News Meteorologist Bill Karins said, “We don’t know yet what this means. It could have malfunctioned. We just don’t know at this stage. It’s too early to tell.”

The earthquake took place in what’s known as the Alaska subduction zone, where it the site of numerous quakes. This includes one that happened in 1964 that was measured at a 9.2, the second largest ever recorded. According to the Alaska Earthquake Center, a tsunami never occurred due to the quake not occurring where two tectonic plates, but rather was due a slip on the Pacific plate only. Direction of the fault of movement in earthquakes like these are horizontal, and are less likely to generate tsunami’s.

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