Anyone on the coast from the north tip of Vancouver Island to southeast Alaska should evacuate one mile inland or find higher ground, said an official with the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center (WCATWC) Saturday.
Michael Burgy, a senior technician with the WCATWC, made the comments after the center issued a tsunami warning. The warning was triggered after a 7.7 magnitude earthquake struck at approximately 8:04 p.m., 139 kilometres south of Masset on Haida Gwaii. The warning covers Vancouver Island to Cape Decision, Alaska, 85 miles southeast of Sitka.
"Those feeling the earth shake, seeing unusual wave action, or the water level rising or receding may have only a few minutes before the tsunami arrival and should move immediately," the WCATWC warned in a press release.
The center also issued a tsunami advisory for the rest of coast of British Columbia to the province's border with Washington state. It states waters in the area may be subject to strong currents and waves, making them a danger to swimmers, boats and coastal structures.
Burgy confirmed sensors detected tsunami activity at Craig, Alaska on Prince of Wales Island, approximately 90 kilometres northwest of Ketchikan and Port Alexander, 95 kilometres south of Sitka. The activity was logged at 8:25 p.m. in Craig and 8:10 p.m. in Port Alexander. A WCATWC bulletin said the first waves would hit Langara Island, the northernmost island of Haida Gwaii, at 9:16 p.m.
"There are definite hazards, definite dangers," said Burgy.
He said the event would likely be made up of a series of waves. The first was often not the most severe wave, he added, but rather the fourth or fifth wave.
The event could last several hours and as long as eight, said Burgy.
In Prince Rupert, 202 km from the earthquake epicentre, residents were being evacuated from streets close to the water and brought to the city's main recreational facility, the Jim Ciccone Civic Civic, said Rudy Kelly, the municipality's director of recreational and community services.
"It was a serious tremor," said Kelly. "Now we're waiting for everyone and praying within hours we'll hear from the Island it's just a big wave rolling in."
Natural Resources Canada reported several aftershocks with magnitudes of up to 4.6.
One Prince Rupert a resident felt the shaking and guessed it was the neighbours.
"I thought it was next door using their washing machine," she said. "But there was no noise."
She was not convinced for the moment about the evacuation notice but did say she had heard reports from friends that emergency crews were clearing the waterfront of onlookers hoping to catch a glimpse of a big wave.
"It's cold and it's raining and I'm not getting out now," she said.
In Prince George residents reported mild shaking but no significant damage.
"My chandeliers were swaying from side to side," Prince George resident Louise Burns said. "It felt like we were on a boat. It must have lasted two or three minutes."
North District RCMP spokesperson Cst. Leslie Smith was not available for comment as of press time.
The Citizen is staffing a press conference by Minister of Justice Shirley Bond on the situation.