BLACK PRESS FILE PHOTOThe tsunami warning was cancelled at around 4:00 am on Jan.23.

Update: North Island emergency responses put to test during Tsunami Scare

RCMP and fire departments were called in to alert North Islanders

  • Jan. 29, 2018 12:00 a.m.

The British Columbia coast avoided a massive tsunami after a 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck about 279 km south of Kodiak, Alaska.

The quake, which struck at 1:31 a.m. on Jan. 23, prompted the National Tsunami Warning Centre to issue a tsunami warning for Coastal B.C.

Emergency responses were soon mobilized throughout the North Island to prepare for the possible tsunami event.

In Port Hardy, the RCMP and Port Hardy Fire Rescue were sent out to alert people of the warning and to have them report to one of two evacuation sites, either Avalon School or the Civic Centre.

The evacuation began before 3:30 a.m. and lasted for roughly an hour until the warning was cancelled, before residents were given the all clear to return home.

Meteorologists have reported that the warning was cancelled without any report of tsunami damage because the displacement on the ocean floor was horizontal, which means the water was moved less than it would be during a vertical displacement.

“Other than not having a tsunami warning siren, I think it went fairly well,” said Port Hardy Emergency Coordinator Bob Hawkins of the evacuation.

Hawkins added the emergency planning committee had sent a recommendation to council, but a siren would have to be budgeted.

“The last quote I got for sirens for Port Hardy is $160,000 plus installation,” said Hawkins, adding, “It’s a pricey endeavour.”

He said he was first alerted to the tsunami warning from two tsunami apps he installed on his phone. “That is the first indication I had that there was an earthquake so I got up and checked websites to see what they were recommending and went from there.”

In Port McNeill, RCMP and Fire Rescue also alerted residents of the tsunami warning.

“About 2:30 a.m. we heard the fire truck siren going down to the end of Beach Drive,” said Port McNeill resident Karen Stewart. Stewart said by the time she got dressed and was ready to leave, an RCMP constable was also knocking on their door to tell them about the evacuation order.

Port McNeill residents were evacuated to North Island Secondary School, where they waited in the school’s library.

“Emergency Services was amazing, they had blankets and there were snacks and coffee,” said Stewart. “There were families, babies, and dogs there and it was a very light atmosphere.”

In Alert Bay, resident Norine Smith said she was also pleased with the emergency response in the village.

“Our fire truck and RCMP vehicles had lights on and loud speakers to warn everyone on Fir Street and Front Street about the tsunami warning,” said Norris through a post on the Village’s Facebook page.

Evacuees went to the Lawrence Ambers Memorial Rec Centre and Alert Bay School. Norris said BC Ambulance also assisted residents who needed extra help in getting moved to higher ground.

“Our gratitude goes out to the RCMP, Ambulance Staff, volunteer fireman, our emergency response team, and to the many others who made dozens of phone calls,” said Alert Bay Mayor Michael Berry in an additonal statement on the Village’s Facebook Page.

“Events like this certainly remind me of the need to polish up on being prepared for emergencies and possible natural disasters,” he added.

The Sointula Fire Department and Malcolm Island Emergency Group alerted residents in Sointula where they evacuated to A.J. Elliot elementary school.

Paul Carver, Chief Administrative Officer, of the Village of Port Alice said he thought their response to the tsunami threat in Port Alice went well.

“Municipal staff and first responders, Ambulance, RCMP and Fire Department kicked into action as soon as the Tsunami warning was received,” said Carver.

“Our fire department and RCMP went door to door advising the occupants of low lying properties along the oceanfront to be prepared to evacuate on a moment’s notice,” he added, noting the Community Centre was opened for evacuees.

Carver said a debriefing with all involved is scheduled for next week.

Since the Tsunami scare, B.C. Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth has been quoted stating that they will review how information was released and how it was received throughout the province.

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