UPDATE 1 – Powerful earthquake strikes the Gulf of Alaska, prompts tsunami warning

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A powerful earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.9 has struck the Pacific Ocean, prompting tsunami warnings for the region and forcing scores of people to evacuate. There were no immediate reports of serious damage or casualties.

The earthquake, which struck at 12:32 a.m. local time on Tuesday, was centered in the Gulf of Alaska, about 276 kilometers (171 miles) southeast of Kodiak City in Alaska, or 576 km (358 mi) south of Anchorage. It struck at a depth of 25 kilometers (15 miles), making it a very shallow earthquake.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) put the preliminary magnitude at 7.9, down from initial estimates of 8.2 and 8.0.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said hazardous tsunami waves were a possibility, prompting a tsunami warning for the coast of Alaska and British Columbia and a tsunami watch for the entire U.S. West Coast and Hawaii. All warnings and watches were canceled nearly 3 hours later.

There were no immediate reports of a tsunami impacting populated areas, but deep-ocean tsunami detection buoys reported small sea level changes in the Pacific Ocean. Small sea level changes were also observed in the water near Kodiak, Seward, Old Harbor, and Sitka.

In Kodiak City, the police department said its officers had seen water receding from the harbor. The department added in a second update that it had reports of fluctuating water levels in the channel, but there were no immediate reports of flooding caused by the tsunami.

There were also no immediate reports of damage or casualties as a result of the earthquake itself, but people across the region reported feeling it. “It wasn’t a super hard shake but definitely strong enough to wake me up,” a resident in Anchorage told EMSC.

The sparsely populated region of Alaska, which sits on the so-called ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’, is occasionally struck by powerful earthquakes. Most notably, an enormous 9.2-magnitude earthquake struck north of Prince William Sound in Alaska on March 27, 1964, unleashing a tsunami which killed at least 143 people.

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