Earthquake Near Alaska Generates Tsunami in Pacific : Wave Diminishes After Prompting Flight to High Ground in Northern California

From Times Staff Writers

Three earthquakes and three aftershocks rocked the Aleutian Islands near Alaska on Wednesday, hammering a Navy air station on the island of Adak and sending a tidal wave across the Pacific that chased people to high ground in Hawaii and Northern California.

No injuries were reported.

The quake, which caused a tsunami, popularly known as a tidal wave, damaged buildings at Adak Naval Air Station. Walls cracked, and windows shattered. But the 5,000 residents of Adak Island, most of them part of the Navy contingent, already had been evacuated to higher ground when the wave hit.

The largest of the three quakes measured 7.7 on the Richter scale. It struck at 3:47 p.m. PDT about 80 miles east of Adak. The big quake was preceded by foreshocks of 4.4 and 6.0. It was followed by two aftershocks of 5.9 and one of 5.4. Soon afterward, tsunami warnings were posted for the entire West Coast, Hawaii and Japan.


As night fell, police evacuated about 600 people from sections of Crescent City, Calif., in Del Norte County near the Oregon state line. In 1964, 12 people died and 35 were injured in Crescent City by a tidal wave created by an 8.5 earthquake on the coast of Alaska. In all, 114 people died because of that quake.

Farther south, authorities advised residents to evacuate a dozen different areas on the coast along Half Moon Bay in San Mateo County. In San Francisco, the Office of Emergency Services ordered all beaches closed, and San Francisco police officers patrolled the beaches to make certain people stayed away.

There were no reports of damage anywhere along the Northern California coast.

On Waikiki in Hawaii, several thousand tourists strolled away from the beach with their towels and suntan lotion after a small airplane flew low over the sand at about 3 p.m. with its loudspeaker blaring: “You must evacuate the beach. This is a tidal wave alert. This is not a drill. Move to higher ground.”

Sunbathers looked at one another, gathered up their things and began to walk away. They were not sure where to go. Many of them simply wandered inland for several blocks and found somewhere to sit down, chatting and laughing. An occasional jogger ran past.

At 4 p.m., authorities sounded a siren every few minutes. Gov. George Ariyoshi permitted state employees to go home early, causing a massive traffic jam.

Shortly afterward, policemen began stopping all movement onto Waikiki Beach. Official vehicles with flashing red lights moved through streets in the area, ordering people to evacuate.


In Los Angeles, boat owners slacked off mooring lines and seashore restaurants filled with would-be spectators. Most authorities agreed that the tsunami would subside to little more than a small surge by the time it reached Southern California, but lifeguards deployed rescue boats to await developments.

The U.S. Coast Guard moved several of its smaller craft out of Long Beach Harbor to ride out the wave in deeper water.

By late evening, restaurants in the vicinity of Malibu Pier reported a sudden influx of customers who all wanted “a table by the window--to watch the wave,” and a trickle of hopeful tsunami-watchers was reported arriving at beaches from Zuma to Newport.

John and Peggy Cox of Huntington Beach, Calif., who had been planning to take a sunset dinner cruise off Hawaii to celebrate her birthday, were told to get out of their room at the Holiday Isle Hotel and evacuate the area.

They followed the crowd across the Ala Wai Canal, walking for more than a half hour before they finally settled down at the Kapiolani Womens and Childrens Medical Center.

“I’ve been in rough seas before,” said Cox, who spent 10 years in the British Royal Navy, “but never on land.”

Staff writers Nieson Himmel in Los Angeles, Betty Cuniberti in Hawaii and Dan Morain and Mark A. Stein in San Francisco contributed to this story.