Hawaii has been hit by a tsunami after a 7.7 earthquake occurred some 139 kilometers (86 miles) off the Canadian coastline.
While there have been no immediate reports of damage on the Canadian coast following the quake, CNN reports many Hawaii residents have now sought higher ground as they prepare for the worst of the tsunami.
Hawaiians have been on alert since late Saturday, reports the BBC, with streets throughout the island chain filled with emergency sirens, and evacuations taking place in low-lying areas.
Early reports suggest the first waves have measured up to 75cm (2.5 feet) in one area, Kahului Harbor. Taller waves are expected to arrive over the course of Sunday, with geophysicists anticipating wave heights of three to six feet in some areas. The biggest waves are expected in Hilo, Kahului, Haleiwa and Hanalei.
At first, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center stated it did not expect a significant threat beyond the immediate area. However, it later stated:
“A tsunami has been generated that could cause damage along the coastline of all islands in the state of Hawaii.”
The warning added:
“Urgent action should be taken to protect lives and property.”
The initial waves hit the archipelago from around 22:30 local time. Following the first wave, Hawaii’s Lt Governor, Brian Schatz, tweeted:
Water is receding significantly in Hilo Harbor. #HItsumani
— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) October 28, 2012
Yet he also reminded followers:
Gerard Fryer, a scientist at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre, told reporters that the tsunami had arrived as predicted, though he had expected it “to be a little bigger.” He added:
“[A three-foot wave] probably wouldn’t knock the buildings down, but it would flood them. Everything on the ground would be basically destroyed by saltwater. A three-foot wave coming into a narrow channel can rise up into a vertical wall, and that will knock you down and beat you up and maybe drown you.”
However, Fryer stated that the tsunami would not be as significant as the colossal quake and tsunami that killed thousands in Japan in 2011.
Meanwhile, an eyewitness close to the beaches on Kauai island informed the BBC that the waves were big, and the islands were gripped by a “strange mixture of fear and anticipation.” Mike Dexter-Smith said:
“A plane with a siren flew over … and everyone left the beach and coastal buildings. All the boats have been taken out of the water. It’s empty down there which is weird. People went buying gas and groceries.”
The 7.7 quake that triggered the tsunami struck the coast of western Canada at around 19:00 local time. A 5.8 magnitude aftershock followed the initial earthquake.
Urs Thomas, operator of a hotel in Port Clements, close to the epicentre, told the Associated Press:
“It was a pretty good shock. I looked at my boat outside. It was rocking. Everything was moving. My truck was moving.”
And Grainne Barthe, a resident of the mainland town of Prince Rupert, told AP:
“Everything was moving. It was crazy. I’ve felt earthquakes before but this was the biggest. It was nerve-wracking. I thought we should be going under a table.”