Magnitude-7.1 earthquake jolts Alaska; 1 home explodes

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- A magnitude-7.1 earthquake knocked items off shelves and walls in south-central Alaska and jolted the nerves of residents in this earthquake-prone region.

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But there were no immediate reports of injuries.

One home was extensively damaged and an entire neighbourhood was evacuated after a gas leak was reported, Kenai Police Chief Gus Sandahl said Sunday morning.

The earthquake struck about 1:30 a.m. Alaska time and was centred 53 miles west of Anchor Point in the Kenai Peninsula, which is about 160 miles southwest of Anchorage, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The U.S. Geological Survey initially reported the earthquake at magnitude 7.1, but downgraded shortly after to magnitude 6.8 before raising it back to 7.1.

"Some earthquakes have challenges associated with them, they are unusual or hard to monitor," Alaska State Seismologist Michael West said. "This is neither of them. Southern Alaska is well instrumented, and this earthquake is of the style and type that we would expect in this area."

He called it the strongest earthquake in this region of Alaska in decades. Alaska often has larger or more powerful earthquakes, such as a 7.9 last year in the Aleutians.

"However, last night's earthquake is significant because it was close enough to Alaskan's population centres," West said, adding that aftershocks could continue for weeks.

The biggest aftershock Sunday was 4.7, and West said a magnitude 5 or magnitude 6 aftershock is possible.

The quake caused a gas leak that lead to an explosion in one home and the evacuation of a neighbourhood in the community of Kenai (KEY'-nigh).

In the community of Kenai, located on the Kenai Peninsula, about 30 homes were evacuated after a gas leak was reported.

A responding police officer extinguished a fire that started in a house. But flames started coming under a wall, and the officer backed off to let firefighters finish the work, Sandahl said.

A home neighbouring the one that was on fire then exploded hours after the quake, Sandahl said. All firefighters and gas utility workers were accounted for, and there were no reports of injuries.

Crews were "definitely still trying to resolve the gas issue," Sandal said nearly eight hours after the earthquake.

A shelter was set up at the Kenai Armory for those evacuating their homes, and Sandahl said there were about 20 people there.

The earthquake was widely felt by residents of Anchorage. But the Anchorage and Valdez police departments said they have not received any reports of injury or significant damage.

Vincent Nusunginya, 34, of Kenai said he was at his girlfriend's house when the earthquake hit.

"It started out as a shaking and it seemed very much like a normal earthquake. But then it started to feel like a normal swaying, like a very smooth side-to-side swaying," said Nusunginya, director of audience at the Peninsula Clarion newspaper. "It was unsettling. Some things got knocked over, but there was no damage."

There were reports of scattered power outages from the Matanuska Electric Association and Chugach Electric in the Anchorage area. The Homer Electric Association reported on its website that about 4,800 customers were without power early Sunday in the Kenai Peninsula.

The Alaska Department of Transportation reported on its Facebook page that there was road damage near the community of Kasilof, on the Kenai Peninsula.

Andrew Sayers, 26, of Kasilof was watching television when the quake struck.

"The house started to shake violently. The TV we were watching fell over, stuff fell off the walls," he said. "Dishes were crashing, and we sprinted toward the doorway."

Later, he was driving to his mother's home when he came across a stretch of K-Beach road that was damaged in the quake.

"We launched over this crack in the road. It's a miracle we didn't bust our tires on it," he said.

Sayers took video of the road damage.

Fire departments in Kenai, Anchorage and other communities received calls about the quake.

Alaska response personnel staffed the State Emergency Operations Centers in Anchorage and called communities that could have been impacted by the earthquake, Jeremy Zidek, the spokesman for the Alaska Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said in an email to The Associated Press.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough reported some damage, but didn't request additional assistance within 90 minutes of the quake, Zidek said.

The hashtag .akquake was trending early Sunday on Twitter, where people were sharing their experiences of the quake and posting photos of items that had fallen off walls and shelves.

After reaching his mother's house, Sayers checked on his grandparents, who live about a mile away.

"No damage, except their Christmas tree fell over," he said.

A tsunami is not expected as a result of the earthquake, the National Weather Service said.


Associated Press writer Tarek Hamada in Phoenix contributed to this report.


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