VANCOUVER - A rolling earthquake measuring 7.7 jolted British Columbia's north-central coast Saturday night, frightening residents and forcing many to leave their homes for higher ground ahead of a possible tsunami.
Tsunami warnings were issued for the North Coast and Haida Gwaii islands and parts of the central coast, including Bella Bella, Bella Coola and Shearwater.
The provincial emergency co-ordination centre issued a bulletin saying a low level tsunami could impact marinas and other coastal infrastructure or create strong currents in harbours and coastal areas.
Residents were evacuated from four communities on the former Queen Charlotte Islands and on the coastal mainland at Port Edward.
Early Sunday morning the tsunami warnings were downgraded to advisory status, meaning evacuations were no longer necessary.
But much of the B.C. coast, including the northern and southern end of Vancouver Island remained under an advisory that there could be a tsunami.
An advisory indicates a tsunami which may produce strong currents and is dangerous to those in or very near the water is expected.
An official with the Institute of Ocean Science said the highest wave so far had hit Langara Island, a northern Haida Gwaii island. It measured 69 centimetres.
B.C. Justice Minister Shirley Bond said there appeared to be little damage from the quake.
"We're certainly grateful at this point," said Bond, who spoke to reporters during a late night conference call.
"We're very grateful for that but we'll wait until we can actually see the impact.”
The quake struck just after eight o'clock local time, its epicentre 17 kilometres below ground some 200 kilometres south-southwest of Prince Rupert. Several smaller aftershocks were also felt.
Carsten Ginsburg, who lives in the small community of Bella Coola southeast of Prince Rupert, said the quake lasted about 40 seconds.
"It shook everything. The electricity went out, the power lines were swinging all over the place and stuff was falling off the shelves."
Ginsburg said he ran home as quickly as he could to see if there was a tsunami warning.
"Which of course there was," he added.
Ginsburg owns the Float House Inn on the public wharf in Bella Coola and had about six customers celebrating a birthday party.
They all evacuated to about 35 metres above sea level.
"I'm assuming that it's OK," he said laughing. "I'm keeping my fingers crossed."
Bella Coola resident Barb Cornish said she considers herself a very calm person.
"But I found it quite unnerving," she told The Canadian Press.
Cornish lives in a log house and had been told that it's one of the safest places to be in the event of an earthquake.
But she said it sure didn't feel safe Saturday night.
"The log house swayed and creaked and my light over my kitchen table was swaying, some chimes went off. I stood up and I could feel the undulations under my feet, to the point where I almost got nauseated."
Lenore Lawrence, a resident of Queen Charlotte City, said the quake was “definitely scary,” adding she wondered if “this could be the big one.”
She said the shaking lasted more than a minute.
While several things fell off her mantle and broke, she said damage in her home was minimal.
Residents rushed out of their homes in Tofino when the tsunami sirens sounded, but they were allowed to return about two hours after the quake.
Yvette Drews, a resident of Tofino, said she and dozens of others had gathered at the local elementary school where they were told by police that they could return home.
But while on the way home, Drews said she heard the tsunami sirens go off again.
"Well that just freaked me out, hearing the siren and the voice," she said.
The quake shook Vancouver Island, the Haida Gwaii area, Prince Rupert, Quesnel and Houston, and was even felt in Metro Vancouver, but so far there have been no reports of any serious damage.