Tsunami Warning Sends Alaskans To Seek Higher Ground

Jan 23, 2018
Originally published on January 24, 2018 7:55 am
Copyright 2018 KCAW. To see more, visit KCAW.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Earlier today a strong earthquake in the Atlantic Ocean caused a tsunami warning in Alaska. Here's the voice of an officer from the Kodiak, Alaska, police force.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DEREK BEAVER: Hello, Kodiak. Sergeant Beaver here. Just want to give a reminder to everybody. This is not a drill. This is an actual tsunami warning. Everybody, get at least a hundred feet above sea level.

MARTIN: That warning was eventually downgraded, but not before it caused many Alaskans to evacuate their communities for higher ground. One of those who was evacuated, reporter Emily Kwong of member station KCAW in Sitka, Alaska. Emily joins us now on the line. Thanks so much for being with us.

EMILY KWONG, BYLINE: Thank you, Rachel. Good morning.

MARTIN: Good morning. So we understand things are stable at this moment, but what happened when the alarm went off?

KWONG: Well, it's quite a violent way to wake up in Sitka, Alaska. I woke up to the sound of my roommate actually pounding on the door saying, get up, get up. We received a text message alert of some kind saying that there was a tsunami warning, though no siren was going off yet. That did happen eventually around 1:20 a.m. local time, and that means evacuations immediately to two schools, Sitka High School and Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School. So I went there.

MARTIN: And what was it...

KWONG: And a voice boomed overhead telling us evacuate. Yeah.

MARTIN: And so what was the greater scene like? I mean, I imagine this doesn't happen all the time so people were clearly understandably anxious?

KWONG: A bit, though it's kind of old hat for people in island communities, those who've lived here for a long time. Some didn't leave their homes, those on higher ground. But for those in the schools, for the kids, it was a little bit like a sleepover that hadn't been planned. Everyone was there in their pajamas and I saw kids dribbling basketballs and playing games and roughhousing each other, trying to take a nap and shield their faces from the fluorescent bulbs, and some parents talking, wondering aloud whether school was going to happen that day. So it was fairly calm for a tsunami warning...

MARTIN: Right.

KWONG: ...Though certainly concern until we received the all clear about an hour and a half later.

MARTIN: So at this point there are no concerns? Everything is fine?

KWONG: There are no concerns as of now. So there were some tidal fluctuations reported in Sitka's harbors by the National Weather Service of about 0.4 feet. So 4 inches. And that's not enough to cause a major concern here so everyone's gone back to their homes, back to sleep, potentially.

MARTIN: Back to sleep.

KWONG: But no concern here right now.

MARTIN: OK. Emily Kwong of member station KCAW. Again, a strong earthquake in the Pacific Ocean caused a tsunami warning in Alaska. That warning was eventually downgraded. Emily, thanks so much.

KWONG: Thank you, Rachel.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In the introduction to this report, we mistakenly say the earthquake was in the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, it was in the Pacific Ocean.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.