Tsunami warning for Alaska coast canceled

February 27, 2010 

Residents look at a collapsed building in Concepcion, Chile, Saturday Feb. 27, 2010 after an 8.8-magnitude struck central Chile. The epicenter was 70 miles (115 kilometers) from Concepcion, Chile's second-largest city.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

The West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center has canceled a tsunami advisory for some sections of coastal Alaska that had been issued earlier today as a consequence of a massive earthquake in Chile.

The center said the advisory is canceled from Sitka to Seward. It remains in effect, however, from Seward out the Aleutian Chain to Attu.

An advisory means that a tsunami capable of producing strong currents or dangerous waves is imminent or expected. The centers says widespread inundations are not expected for areas under the advisory.


EARLIER STORY

In Port Alexander -- the first Alaska location expected to see any waves generated by the massive earthquake in Chile -- Molly Kimzey watched the water this afternoon.

"It's actually looking pretty nice. There's been no noticeable surge or change," she said by telephone as the clock struck 3:15 p.m., the time the first waves were expected to arrive.

The West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer had earlier warned Alaskans to stay away from beaches and harbors today as a tsunami generated from the earthquake makes its way across the Pacific Ocean, with an arrival expected in Alaska this afternoon.

Bill Knight, the tsunami warning and science officer at the federal agency, said this morning that no Alaska location is expected to be inundated. But the tsunami can generate strong, unpredictable currents within the confines of harbors and along beaches.

"Strong, threatening currents are expected to develop near and on the shore," Knight said. "The actions people should be taking is: Clear the beach, get out of the harbor, be out of the water."

In Sitka, assistant harbor master Chad Mulligan was fielding phone calls from residents wondering what happens next.

"I don't see any boats leaving the harbor right now. I think people are definitely listening and waiting, but they're calm," he said.

In Yakutat, a coastal village 225 miles northwest of Juneau, residents seem relatively unworried, said police officer Sean Mapes.

"I still see lots of boats heading out of the harbor to go trolling today. A lot of vehicles heading out to the beach to go for walks," he said. "It's such a beautiful day."

The warning center, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, isn't urging any Alaska residents to move to higher ground, Knight said. But local emergency officials could decide to act with greater caution, as they do with some frequency in Sitka, he said.

The Coast Guard, meanwhile, has issued an "urgent marine information broadcast" alerting the shipping industry and vessels in Alaska waters of the potential for tsunami impacts.

The greatest impacts are expected to be seen from Kodiak Island to Attu in the Aleutian Islands, where in some places the tsunami could raise sea levels to nearly a foot and generate waves of over 2 feet -- a matter of some concern, though not extreme danger.

According to a chart published by NOAA, the first Alaska location in the path of the predicted tsunami was Port Alexander on Baranof Island in Southeast Alaska.

There, Kimzey is business manager for the Laughing Raven Lodge. Residents were talking about the tsunami advisory but weren't moving to higher ground today, she said.

"They were predicting like a one-and-a-half (foot) wave or something, so it wasn't a big concern," Kimzey said.

The tsunami waves were projected to reach Kodiak at 4:28 p.m. and Seward 11 minutes later.

Two harbor employees in Kodiak have been going from boat to boat, telling crews or people who live on board about the advisory, said deputy harbormaster Lon White.

"We are not recommending or suggesting people evacuate their boats from the harbors at this time," White said at about 12:45 p.m. "We are again, monitoring it, and advising people to be away from the waterfront if possible."

The waves are expected to reach Kodiak -- where a blizzard watch also is in effect tonight through Sunday -- at about mid-tide, White said.

NOAA predicted the maximum wave height at Sitka and Seward to be 1.3 feet, and Kodiak at 2.3 feet. The highest waves are projected to occur about two hours after the first one reaches the coast.

Knight said it's unlikely that any Cook Inlet location, including Anchorage, would notice any change -- even the 1964 quake didn't generate a Cook Inlet tsunami, he said. The biggest risk in Cook Inlet is from the Mount Augustine volcano near Homer, which can trigger a tsunami if it partially collapses in an eruption.

Prince William Sound locations will likely notice effects from the tsunami, but the protected nature of the area will likely reduce the risks, Knight said.

Tsunamis often arrive in waves many minutes apart, and succeeding ones can be more dangerous than the first, he said. He cited the case of Crescent City, Calif., where the first wave generated by a 2006 Japanese quake seemed insignificant. But before it was over, boats and docks were wrecked and residents suffered rattled nerves. Eleven people were killed in Crescent City following the 1964 Alaska quake.

Knight, on duty all night at the Palmer center, has been working with other scientists and officials to interpret the results of a network of NOAA sensors on the Pacific. The Deep-ocean Assessment and Report of Tsunamis -- DART -- devices measure the increase in pressure on the ocean floor from as little as a two-inch wave.

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