Bristol Bay villages among those to evacuate after Tuesday’s 7.9 magnitude earthquake

Jan 24, 2018

Several Alaska Peninsula communities evacuated to higher ground during a tsunami warning Tuesday.

Credit Alaska Earthquake Center

Just after midnight on Tuesday, Bristol Bay residents were among those awakened by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami warning. The 7.9 magnitude quake that occurred in the Gulf of Alaska, 180 miles off the coast of Kodiak.

“I thought the bed was shaking because my daughter was having a hard time falling asleep,” said Port Heiden resident, Jaclyn Christensen. “I thought she was being rowdy. But I saw the door swaying side to side, and I knew it was an earthquake.”

Those on the Alaska Peninsula were closest Bristol Bay communities in proximity to the quake, but even people in Dillingham and Naknek felt the shakes.

At 12:38, the National Weather Service issued a tsunami warning for the much of the western coast of the contiguous United States and southern coast of Alaska.

In several Bristol Bay communities, people with homes near the coast evacuated to higher ground.

Perryville responded quickly, said Gerald Kosbruk, president of the village council. He estimated that most residents made it to the shelter within 10 minutes of the village sounding the tsunami siren.

“Once we got the tsunami warning alert, we tripped the local siren and everybody went to the tsunami shelter up on the hill. That was the fastest I’ve actually seen people up there,” said Kosbruk.

In Chignik Lagoon, where there is not a designated shelter, people who live near the coast, evacuated to the homes of friends and family on higher ground.

The tsunami warning was cancelled shortly after 4 a.m. No substantial damage has been reported in Bristol Bay or elsewhere in Alaska.

Dillingham volunteer firefighter, Ron Bowers, is the former Chignik Bay fire chief. He said after the event that it was a good reminder that villages need to have a disaster plan in place and practice it regularly.

“Any disaster plan should fit all hazards,” said Bowers. “You don’t know if it’s going to be a long term power outage, a tsunami, an earthquake, a major fire that takes out some of your public services. It should be flexible, and everybody in the community should know about it and know what’s expected.”

Contact the author at avery@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.