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Tsunami fears send people scrambling

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VANCOUVER—A tsunami warning issued for coastal British Columbia was cancelled this morning after people living along parts of the province's coast evacuated to higher ground when a powerful earthquake struck off Alaska.

Residents in some coastal communities were woken by warning sirens shortly after the quake with a magnitude of 7.9 struck around 1:30 a.m. Pacific time.

The quake was centered 278 km southeast of Kodiak in the Gulf of Alaska at a depth of about 10 km.

B.C. Public Safety minister Mike Farnworth said several communities activated their emergency plans and evacuated those at risk as the provincial emergency co-ordination centre and five regional operations centres also were mobilized.

In low-lying areas of Victoria and Esquimalt, officials went door-to-door telling people to evacuate while elsewhere sirens and text alerts were used to get the warning out, he said in an interview.

An alert still was in place hours after the initial warning, which means there may be higher wave action in low-lying areas along the province's coast, Farnworth said.

“Although the tsunami warning was eventually suspended, this event demonstrates that coast warning systems do work,” he noted.

Patricia Leidl, communications director with Emergency Preparedness BC, said there was a three-cm wave and a 15-cm rise in sea level hours after the quake at Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

The tsunami warning covered B.C.'s north coast, Haida Gwaii, the west coast of Vancouver Island, the central coast and northeast Vancouver Island, and along the Juan de Fuca Strait.

People were told to evacuate inland or to higher ground, or move to an upper floor of a multi-story building, depending on individual situations.

Dan Banks, a public works employee in Tofino, said residents in low-lying areas, including resorts along the beach, were told to go to higher ground.

“It's tsunami protocol, everybody is going to high ground and evacuating the low-areas like they are supposed to,” he said, adding people also gathered at a community hall.

Gillian Der, a University of British Columbia geography student who is studying in Queen Charlotte on Haida Gwaii, said she didn't feel the earthquake.

“I don't think any of us felt anything,” she remarked.

"I just heard the fire trucks going around, honking their horns and on the loud speaker saying there is a tsunami warning.

It was very apocalyptic,“ she added. "So I was just running up the street to the muster station, up the big hill.”

The last devastating tsunami to hit B.C. was 54 years ago in Port Alberni after a 9.2 earthquake off Alaska.

Two waves gathered force as they raced up the funnel-like Alberni Inlet in March, 1964, hitting the city with forces that swept away houses and vehicles but caused no deaths.

Scientists in Japan, and Vancouver Island First Nations, have gathered accounts of a huge earthquake and tsunami in January, 1700 that wiped out communities and killed thousands of people.

A wave the height of a four-storey building hit the east coast of Japan nine hours after the original earthquake off the B.C. coast.

People in Alaska received warnings today from the U.S. National Weather Service sent to cellphones that said: “Emergency Alert. Tsunami danger on the coast. Go to high ground or move inland.”

Lt. Tim Putney, of the Kodiak Police Department, said the earthquake woke him up out of a dead sleep, and he estimates it shook for at least 30 seconds.

“I've been Kodiak for 19 years that was the strongest, longest lasting one I've ever felt,” he told The Associated Press.

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