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.
There were no immediate reports of injuries, although one home was extensively damaged, and an entire neighborhood was evacuated after a gas leak was reported.
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said in a statement Sunday that he was relieved there wasn't more damage.
Alaska's state seismologist, Michael West, called it the strongest earthquake in the state's south-central region in decades. Alaska often has larger or more powerful earthquakes, such as a 7.9 last year in the remote Aleutian Islands.
"However, last night's earthquake is significant because it was close enough to Alaska's population centers," West said, adding that aftershocks could continue for weeks. The biggest aftershock Sunday was magnitude 4.7, and West said a magnitude 5 or 6 aftershock is possible.
The earthquake struck about 1:30 a.m. Alaska time and was centered 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. About two hours later, a magnitude 4.3 aftershock hit the Cook Inlet, the agency said. A slightly stronger aftershock — magnitude 4.7 — hit the Cook Inlet at 5:29 a.m.
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.
In the community of Kenai, located on the Kenai Peninsula, four homes were destroyed in natural gas explosions or fire and about 30 homes were evacuated after a gas leak was reported.
Kenai Fire Department battalion chief Tony Prior said explosions from a natural gas leak destroyed two of the homes. The other two were fully engulfed in flames by the time firefighters determined it was safe enough from gas for them to enter. The fire department focused on keeping the fires in these two homes from spreading to nearby houses.
He said there were no injuries. He said the second house explosion was major and they are fortunate no one was hurt in that one.
A shelter was set up at the Kenai Armory for those evacuating their homes, and Kenai police Chief Gus 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, the 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
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.
The Associated Press