A massive earthquake near a far-western, uninhabited Aleutian island prompted a tsunami warning Monday afternoon that stretched across hundreds of miles of sea.

The epicenter of the 7.9 magnitude earthquake was amid the Rat Islands, making it tied for the eighth largest recorded in U.S. history, according to U.S. Geological Survey records.

While the quake was huge, officials from the Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer said that "it's not looking like it's a significant height in the wave."

But the size of a wave does not necessarily reveal its potential to cause damage.

"You don't need much more than about 6 inches of water moving at a significant speed to pull you out, but this is the entire ocean moving," said Scott Langley, an electronics technician with the Tsunami Warning Center. "It doesn't take a lot of height in waves to do damage."

The National Weather Service and U.S. Coast Guard put out alerts to fishermen who could be thrown off course by waves or unexpected currents. Langley said fishermen near land are likeliest to be at high risk.

There were no immediate reports of distressed fishermen, though.

"We've gotten no calls from anyone," said Coast Guard Petty Officer Shawn Eggert. "All we're doing is issuing warnings and preparing Coast Guard cutters and other assets."

And with the remote location, borough officials and Aleutian residents reported no obvious damage.

"No one reported feeling anything, much less experiencing any damage," said Laura Tanis, Aleutian East Borough spokesperson. The borough is composed of King Cove, Cold Bay, False Pass, Akutan, Nelson Lagoon and Sand Point, all slightly east of the area covered by the advisory.

Adak City Manager, Layton Lockett, said there has been no reports of structure damage in his Aleutian community. The city will be monitoring the underground water system and tower structures.

Lockett said when the community felt the shake that lasted about a minute, the city started evacuating some 300 residents to a shelter 600 feet above sea level.

"Sometimes we have people that say 'oh, we just decided to go up the hill', and so that's what people did. We also activated the tsunami alarm and we very calmly drove up to the Bering Hill Church," said Lockett. 

There have been no reports of any major injuries as a result of the earthquake.


8.0 magnitude earthquakes occur approximately every 10 years along the Aleutian arc, according to the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

USGS records show that similarly-sized earthquakes occurred in the Aleutians in 1938, 1946, 1957, 1965, 1986, 1996 and 2003. 

The largest was in 1965, when an 8.7 magnitude earthquake hit in nearly the exact same area as the Monday earthquake.

Amchitka Island, 25 miles southeast of the most recent epicenter, was used for three underground nuclear detonations from 1965 to 1971.

The area is still studied by scientists who want to know if groundwater near the detonation sites may carry radioactive materials toward the ocean.

Channel 2's Caslon Hatch contributed to this story.