Valley residents encouraged to prepare following early morning earthquake

Despite being a low-risk area for a tsunami, many residents of the Comox Valley awoke early Tuesday morning to text messages and social media alerts on their phones.

Shortly after 1:30 a.m., a magnitude 7.9 earthquake had struck 278 kilometres southeast of Kodiak in the Gulf of Alaska, and triggered a tsunami warning covering B.C.’s north coast, Haida Gwaii, the west coast of Vancouver Island, the central coast and northeast Vancouver Island and along the Juan de Fuca Strait.

Around 5:30 a.m., the provincial government issued a statement which indicated the warning had been cancelled.

“Overnight, several communities along the coast activated their emergency plans and evacuated those at risk,” said Mike Farnsworth, Minister of Public Safety.

“Emergency Management BC activated the Provincial Emergency Co-ordination Centre, and the five provincial regional operations centres. The agency also supported local governments to evacuate residents. Although the tsunami warning was eventually suspended, this event demonstrates that coast warning systems do work.”

In Tofino and Ucluelet, residents received alerts to evacuate around 1:30 a.m., and in Port Alberni, an alarm did sound, but not until roughly one hour after word first came out about the earthquake.

In the Comox Valley, Howie Siemens, emergency program co-ordinator for the Comox Valley Emergency Program said locally “everything unfolded pretty well.”

He explained there is very little risk to the area for a tsunami, and a much larger concern is the risk of an earthquake and the damage it would cause.

Many residents on social media inquired about the lack of an audible alarm in the Valley. Siemens said such an alarm is not the best value for infrastructure in the area.

“We are part of the mass notification system – it is the same system the regional district is using for its boil water advisories,” he said.

While the system is being initially used for boil water advisories, the intent is to expand for other notifications.

He noted while some people may not have access to cell phone/text messaging notifications, he emphasized everyone should be taking steps towards personal preparedness.

If the situation had worsened, he noted fire departments and emergency personnel would assist in notifying residents.

“This time, there was lots of time, but the solution is very simple – make sure to have friends or family members check in, make a call or even do a Facebook post.”

While the Comox Valley wasn’t directly impacted by the events Tuesday morning, Siemens reminded residents it is in their best interest to ensure they are prepared for when an emergency strikes, and to think about purchasing an emergency kit with supplies.

To register for the emergency notification system, visit comoxvalleyrd.ca and click on ‘I want to sign up for emergency notifications.’

-With files from Black Press

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