In a dramatic night that left Canadians as well as people along the western coast on edge, and Hawaii residents temporarily homeless, Canada was struck by its strongest earthquake in more than 60 years. The violent quake struck off British Columbia’s coast, triggering a tsunami warning from the Washington border to Vancouver Island and a tsunami was actually generated and struck the Hawaiian coastal areas, but was weaker than geologist expected.
The magnitude 7.7 quake struck at 8:04 p.m. PT and was centered off Haida Gwaii, formerly the Queen Charlottetown Islands. It could be felt as far away as Edmonton and Yukon.
Then there followed two very powerful aftershocks: one a 5.8-magnitude, another measuring 4.8.
Residents near the centre of the quake said the violent jolting from the initial tremor lasted for up to a minute, but no injuries or major damage have been reported.
Residents of Haida Gwaii reported a 90-minute power failure.
Tsunami warnings were issued for the North Coast, the Haida Gwaii islands, parts of the central B.C. coast, the coast of Alaska and for the Hawaiian islands.
Early Sunday morning the warnings were downgraded to advisory status, meaning evacuations were no longer necessary.
But much of the B.C. coast, including the northern and southern ends of Vancouver Island, remained under an advisory overnight Sunday, indicating a tsunami could produce strong currents that would be dangerous to those near the water.
“We’re very very grateful and thankful that we can go home tonight, counting our blessings,” Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie told reporters after the tsunami warnings was downgraded.
“The water is still treacherous, still dangerous, and the beaches still need caution, but we can go home,” he said.
Hours after the earthquake, Dennis Sinnott, who works at the Institute of Ocean Sciences, said the largest wave hit Langara Island, a northern Haida Gwaii island, and measured just 69 centimetres.
‘It was just pure hell there for a while.’ stated a resident of Queen Charlotte City.
There were evacuations in Haida Gwaii and Port Edward, near Prince Rupert. Officials say it’s not clear how many people have been driven from their homes.
“It looks like the damage and the risk are at a very low level,” Shirley Bond, British Columbia’s minister responsible for emergency management said. “We’re certainly grateful.”
The quake shook homes in several B.C. communities, including Sandspit, Surrey, Terrace, Prince Rupert, Kitimat, Prince George and Quesnel.
“I thought right away, we’re having a big landslide,” said Dave Martinek lives in Queen Charlotte City on the island, describing the quake.
B.C. earthquake stories
“And then it progressed and kept on progressing, and the whole house was just shaking — pictures on the walls.
“I got my son, who was having a nap. He was stabilizing the book shelves. The windows and everything were just creaking. We have two cats and one cat was deliberating throwing herself at the door trying to get out of the house. It was just pure hell there for a while.”
Low-lying areas in the Hawaiian islands were evacuated late Saturday. Geophysicists had feared waves between 1 and 1.9 metres to hit the Hawaii islands, beginning about 10:30 p.m. local time Saturday (4:30 a.m. ET Sunday ET). But Hawaii seems to have been spared the worst.
Four waves about 12 minutes apart had already come ashore when seismologists realized they were smaller than expected.
Sirens sounded every half hour, starting around 7:30 p.m. local time, warning of a tsunami approaching Hawaii. The Honolulu police ordered the streets evacuated and shops closed. Tourists in beachfront hotels were told to stay above the fourth floors.
Brent Ward, an earth scientist at Simon Fraser University, said the earthquake was the second largest to hit the country since 1949, when another earthquake was recorded in the same area with a magnitude of 8.1.
Ward said the area is known as the Queen Charlotte fault, where the earth’s plates slide horizontally across each other in a strike-slip action, similar to what happens along California’s San Andreas fault.
“Stresses build up because of that movement, and every so often we get the release of that stress in the form of an earthquake.”
Ward said he wasn’t surprised the tsunami warning was short-lived because the strike-slip movement along the fault doesn’t generally trigger tsunamis.
“To trigger a tsunami you need to have a vertical movement of the sea floor, and it’s that vertical movement that displaces water and triggers the tsunami,” he said. “Because it’s sliding across each other, you’re not generally moving the water.”