‘I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in my life’: Tofino visitor describes tsunami threat

Tofino residents forced to evacuate to higher ground following a tsunami alert on Jan. 23, 2018. Catherine Lempke

Tofino visitor Alia Dharssi was asleep in her hotel room when she received a call there had been an earthquake and a tsunami warning had been issued for coastal B.C.

“When I got the call I was so scared, I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in my life,” she says.

LISTEN: Residents respond to tsunami warning
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The front desk called her just after 2 a.m. Tuesday.

“They told me there’s a tsunami warning, you have to go to the elementary school,” says Dharssi. “I was glad they called because I couldn’t hear the sirens and I got up, left my room as quickly as I could, ran to the car and here I am.”

WATCH: Tofino tourist describes how tsunami warning unfolded

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Tofino tourist describes how tsunami warning unfolded – Jan 23, 2018

Dharssi drove to the evacuation centre and town hall in Tofino where most of the town had gathered to find out what was going to happen.

“I was just thinking about those huge tsunamis you see in movies and then to come into town and see that people were calm and that there was a really clear evacuation plan and calmed me down a bit too,” adds Dharssi.

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READ MORE: Tsunami warning on B.C.’s coast cancelled after large Alaska earthquake

The U.S. Geological Survey says the quake struck at about 1:32 a.m. PT and had a preliminary reading of 8.2, which it later revised to 7.9. It struck 278 kilometres southeast of Kodiak at a depth of about 10 kilometres.

Environment Canada initially issued a tsunami warning, but hours later it was cancelled and evacuations have been lifted.

The warning has also been cancelled for Alaska and the U.S. west coast.

LISTEN: Tofino mayor breathes a sigh of relief

“I can’t imagine what it must be like if your home is on the beach or you’re actually from here,” says Dharssi.

“It would be scary at the thought of losing everything.”

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Residents of Tofino also woke up in disbelief.

Catherine Lempke was just about to call it a night at the Whalers on the Point Guesthouse.

READ MORE: LIVE UPDATES: Latest on the earthquake and now cancelled BC tsunami warning

“I got a google alert saying there was a tsunami warning, my roommate also saw it and we were also in disbelief,” she says.

Lempke acted quickly and warned everyone else.

“Got my passport, warm sweater, bottles of water, and started knocking on doors.”

Lempke, says through it all — people stayed calm.

“There’s sleeping bags, people on their chairs, sitting down, there’s people on their laptops,” she adds.

About 600 people gathered at the town hall where everyone stayed calm.

WATCH: Homes rattled after earthquake rocks B.C., Alaska coast

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Homes rattled after earthquake rocks B.C., Alaska coast – Jan 23, 2018

“A bit funny just trying to convince some of our inebriated guests who thought it was not a drill or a joke,” says Lempke. “But the people I had to wake up and get out of bed believed me pretty quick and we mustered in the parking lot and drove down into the community centre.”

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In Victoria, Mayor Lisa Helps says fire and police had just mobilized to begin evacuations when the warning was cancelled.

“I have to say I am really impressed with our emergency management protocols,” says Helps. “This is the first time as mayor that I’ve been involved and experienced the 1-2-3 that snaps into place in these emergencies.”

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