Coastal communities safe after major earthquake and threat of a tsunami

(Graphic courtesy the Alaska Earthquake Center)

Residents of coastal Alaska, from Sand Point to Kodiak, scrambled for higher ground and motored boats into deeper water Monday afternoon after a magnitude 7.5 earthquake hit near Sand Point and triggered a tsunami warning. 

Large waves did not appear, but life in the communities was disrupted by the emergency. 

Residents from Unalaska to the Kenai Peninsula reported to the USGS that they’d felt the earthquake. The National Weather Service downgraded the warning to an advisory toward the end of the afternoon.

Raynelle Gardner, who works at the Sand Point School, said residents felt the violent shaking of the first quake. She hadn’t felt any aftershocks because she had been driving, but as she spoke on the phone, she watched the Alaska Earthquake Center website as it ticked off one that rippled through the area. 

Several communities were placed under a tsunami warning after a magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck near Sand Point, Alaska. Updates here:📹Dylan Simard / KMXT Radio Kodiak Alaska

Posted by KTOO on Monday, October 19, 2020

In the first hour after the quake, the center reported ten aftershocks, including seven of magnitude 5 or greater. The largest was a magnitude 5.9 at 1:45 p.m.

The Sand Point School is the evacuation point for the eastern Aleutian fishing community of just under 1,000 people.

Austin Roof teaches there and is also general manager at the community’s radio station, KSDP-AM. 

“The community mostly evacuated to high ground, so it’s hard to tell if any tsunami came,” Roof said. “The last earthquake, there was a small, one-foot tsunami that did happen, so it would have been really hard to tell if that had happened from where we were.” 

The National Tsunami Warning Center reported that a small tsunami, measured at two feet, had reached Sand Point at 2:25 p.m., and a smaller wave in King Cove.  

This is a breaking news story that has been updated.

Rashah McChesney, Ian Dickson of KTOO and Hope McKenney of KUCB contributed to this report.

Correction: Previous versions of this story listed the wrong call letters for the Sand Point radio station – they are KSDP. 

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