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Coastal Alaska braces for tsunami, gets only small waves

Fears of a tsunami from the Japan earthquake kept people in coastal Alaska awake Thursday night and sent two state ferries out to sea to avoid the potential of being swamped. But the scare passed with just small waves and no reported damage.

The city of Sitka activated its emergency calling network at 3:30 a.m., leaving messages on the phones of the city's residents and warning them of the possible tsunami.

About 40 people and a few pets went to the local high school and another 10 to an elementary school to wait it out. Sitka Fire Chief Dave Miller and others scanned the ocean at about 4:25 a.m., the time the National Weather Service had predicted Sitka would see a wave come in. But nothing happened, Miller said, and waves of 30 inches that came in later in the morning didn't do any harm.

The biggest reported wave in Alaska was just over 5 feet at remote Shemya in the Aleutian Islands, with no damage. Adak and Dutch Harbor saw 18 inch waves.

Kodiak harbor master Marty Owen described the tsunami as a non-event in his town. He said he spent most of the night worrying about it, but the status of the alert was never elevated to a warning.

"We've observed nothing here in Kodiak. ... I'm grateful," Owen said.

The Homer News reported that the tsunami scare triggered sirens in Homer, Seldovia, Nanwalek and Port Graham, but the waves were small with no impact.

The state ferry Chenega left port in Cordova and the ferry Lituya from Metlakatla as "a precaution to avoid waves that might threaten the ports where they were docked." The Lituya was out for two-and-a-half hours and the Chenega for three hours.

Three passenger planes headed from the Lower 48 to Japan were diverted to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on Thursday night and early Friday. The planes remain on the tarmac and the passengers were sent to local hotels pending alternate arrangements, said John Parrot, the manager of the airport.

Tom Livingston, an Anchorage resident vacationing on the Big Island of Hawaii, said people were told by TV and phone to evacuate. His family ended up sleeping in the car and weren't allowed to return to the house they were renting until about 3 p.m. Friday.

Livingston, who is staying on Kealakekua Bay south of Kona, said three homes in the neighborhood were destroyed by the wave. "We are grateful to the authorities for the early warning and clear response," Livingston said in an e-mail.


Anchorage Daily News