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Enormous Earthquake Off Alaska Prompts Widespread Tsunami Warnings

January 23, 2018, 10:41 AM UTC

A major earthquake has struck in the Gulf of Alaska, prompting tsunami warnings across parts of Alaska and coastal British Columbia in Canada.

The earthquake, which the U.S Geological Survey briefly rated at a magnitude of 8.2 before downgrading it to 7.9, occurred late Monday night, hit 173 miles south-east of Chiniak, Alaska, at a depth of 12 miles. A 7.9 earthquake is extremely strong, although Alaska’s legendary quake of 1964—the U.S.’s largest ever, with 131 lives lost—measured 9.2.

“Based on all available data a tsunami may have been generated by this earthquake that could be destructive on coastal areas even far from the epicentre,” the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said in an advisory notice.

Tsunami warnings were issued for Alaska and British Columbia. Washington, Oregon and even California and Hawaii were put on tsunami watch—though the tsunami watch was subsequently cancelled for Hawaii and the three West Coast states.

In Alaska, people packed into high schools and other evacuation centers after the quake hit shortly after midnight local time. Residents gathered in shelters on Kodiak Island, the closest land point to the quake. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage from the quake.

“People are fine,” said Neil Hecht, assistant principal of Kodiak High School, which was sheltering a few hundred people. “Spirits are high. Everyone is doing well here.”

Shortly after 4 a.m. Alaska time (8 a.m. ET), the tsunami warning for Alaska, which had been downgraded to a tsunami advisory, was cancelled.

Although it is remarkable for its scale, this is not the only earthquake to have occurred around the Pacific “Ring of Fire” in recent hours.

A magnitude-6.1 quake also struck in Indonesia, although this prompted no tsunami warnings. That quake damaged buildings in the capital, Jakarta.

Meanwhile, a volcanic eruption in Japan on Tuesday morning killed a soldier and injured almost a dozen more people.