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U.S. West Coast braces for possible tsunami after Gulf of Alaska quake

Reuters logo Reuters 1/23/2018
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ANCHORAGE (Reuters) - A 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck the Gulf of Alaska early on Tuesday, prompting warnings of a possible tsunami down the West Coast of North America.

Evacuation orders were in place in parts of Alaska and as far south as San Francisco as officials urged people who live near the ocean to be ready to flee if needed.

Hundreds of people packed into the high school in Kodiak, a town of 6,100 people on Alaska's Kodiak Island, one of the closest settlements to the epicenter. Long lines of traffic formed in coastal communities including Homer and Seward, residents warned on social media.

"People are fine," Neil Hecht, the high school's assistant principal, said in a phone interview. "Spirits are high. Everyone is doing well here."

The school stands 164 feet (50 m) above sea level, said Hecht, who added he was unsure if evacuees would have to spend the night there.

Kodiak police warned at 2:29 a.m. local time (1129 GMT) that water was receding from the harbor, a precursor to a tsunami.

"Please heed local warnings to move inland or to higher ground," Alaska Governor Bill Walker said in a statement.

San Francisco residents who live three blocks from the Pacific Ocean or five blocks from San Francisco Bay were told to prepare to evacuate by the city's Department of Emergency Management.

There were no immediate reports of damage or injury.

The quake, initially measured at magnitude 8.2, struck around 160 miles (250 km) southeast of Chiniak, Alaska at a depth of 25 km at 12:31 a.m. local time (931 GMT), the U.S. Geological Survey said.

"If you are located in this coastal area, move inland to higher ground. Tsunami warnings mean that a tsunami with significant inundation is possible or is already occurring," the Anchorage Office of Emergency Management said in a warning for Alaska and British Columbia.

A tsunami watch for the entire U.S. West Coast was issued.

"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 epicenter," the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.

An initial tsunami watch for Hawaii was canceled.

Japan's meteorological agency said it was monitoring the situation but did not issue a tsunami alert.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Scott Malone and Robin Pomeroy; Editing by John Stonestreet and Jeffrey Benkoe)

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