The tsunami sirens wailed at about 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday night, just as most of Kodiak was going to bed.
Neighbors checked on each other to make sure they they were in the process of evacuating. Suddenly the town came awake with a stream of cars headed to higher ground.
Kim Phillips and her family, who have a house on the waterfront, joined went to the Kodiak High School parking lot, which is on a hill.
Although she had heard the Magnitude 7.8 quake near Chignik might generate a tsunami that could arrive in Kodiak sometime after midnight, she was in good spirits.
“We’ve got the dog. We’ve got our tsunami box, full of toothpaste and underwear and everything we need.”
Phillips took comfort in being prepared, while Lucy Rockwell, huddled on top of a car with some friends and seemed shaken.
“On the inside, I’m kind of dying,” Rockwell said. “This is the first time I’ve experienced this and I’m not from here.”
Rockwell is from Mobile, Alabama. She came to Kodiak to serve in the Coast Guard.
Other than a few nervous barking dogs, most people were relaxed. There were a lot of workers from fish processing plants along the waterfront.
Most wore masks. In fact Larry LeDoux, superintendent for the Kodiak Island Borough School District handed them out, while his staff checked on people in the gym and called outlying villages on the island.
“It’s a wonderful example of Alaskans in a crisis,” said LeDoux, who believes the past months of dealing with the coronavirus threat has honed the district’s capabilities to respond to the unpredictable.
“We have a lot of people wandering around, supporting people, just being kind and doing what we do,” LeDoux said. Earlier in the evening, the superintendent held a forum to roll out the district’s plans for opening school in the fall.
Other than a few nervous, barking dogs, who howled along with the sirens, it was a relaxed atmosphere in the parking lot, where there was visible relief when other communities like Sandpoint, in the path of the potential tsunami, saw little wave action. When the tsunami alert was cancelled a little after midnight, people were happy to drive away and didn’t complain about losing sleep over what turned out to be more of a drill than a disaster.
Even so, stories of the tsunami unleashed from the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake and the devastation it caused to Kodiak, are well known.
Martine Chenet, a transplant from Paris, who was wearing a mask that said, “Bonjour,” has lived in Kodiak for more than 20 years. She’s always glad when these tsunami warnings turn into non-events but still takes each one seriously and prepares herself for the worst.
“If it becomes serious, we are a great community, so we’ll face it,” Chenet said.