The all new
CBS News App for Android® for iPad® for iPhone®
Fully redesigned. Featuring CBSN, 24/7 live news. Get the App

Massive tremor hits south-central Alaska

This Aug. 19, 2011, file photo shows Mount McKinley in Denali National Park, Alaska.

AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File

Last Updated Jan 24, 2016 9:47 PM EST

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- A magnitude-7.1 quake knocked items off shelves and walls in Alaska early Sunday morning, jolting the nerves of residents in this earthquake-prone region. There were no reports of injuries, but four homes were lost to explosions or fire following the quake.

One home was extensively damaged and an entire neighborhood was evacuated after a gas leak was reported, Kenai Police Chief Gus Sandahl said Sunday morning.

The earthquake struck about 1:30 a.m. Alaska time and was centered 53 miles west of Anchor Point in the Kenai Peninsula, which is about 160 miles southwest of Anchorage, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. About two hours later, a magnitude-4.3 aftershock hit the Cook Inlet, the agency said. A slightly stronger aftershock - magnitude-4.7 -hit the Cook Inlet at 5.29 a.m.

On their website, the USGS described the tremor as an earthquake of "intermediate-depth."

While those type of quakes normally don't cause a lot of damage directly above their location, the USGS says they "may be felt at great distance from their epicenters."

That region of Alaska experienced the second largest global tremor ever recorded on March 27, 1964, the M 9.3 Great Alaska earthquake.

The USGS initially reported the quake as a magnitude-7.1, but downgraded shortly afterward to magnitude-6.8 before raising it back to 7.1.

Alaska's state seismologist, Michael West, called it the strongest earthquake in the state's south-central region in decades. Alaska often has larger or more powerful earthquakes, such as a 7.9 last year in the remote Aleutian Islands.

"However, last night's earthquake is significant because it was close enough to Alaska's population centers," West said, adding that aftershocks could continue for weeks.

usgs-quake-map.jpg

The location of the earthquake that struck central Alaska in the early morning hours on January 24, 2016.

U.S. Geological Survey

In the community of Kenai, located on the Kenai Peninsula, about 30 homes were evacuated after a gas leak was reported.

A responding police officer extinguished a fire that started in a house. But flames started coming under a wall, and the officer backed off to let firefighters finish the work, Sandahl said.

A home neighboring the one that was on fire then exploded hours after the quake, Sandahl said. All firefighters and gas utility workers were accounted for, and there were no reports of injuries.

Crews were "definitely still trying to resolve the gas issue," Sandal said nearly eight hours after the earthquake.

A shelter was set up at the Kenai Armory for those evacuating their homes, and Sandahl said there were about 20 people there.

The earthquake was widely felt by residents of Anchorage. But the Anchorage and Valdez police departments said they have not received any reports of injury or significant damage.

Vincent Nusunginya, 34, of Kenai said he was at his girlfriend's house when the earthquake hit.

"It started out as a shaking and it seemed very much like a normal earthquake. But then it started to feel like a normal swaying, like a very smooth side-to-side swaying," said Nusunginya, director of audience at the Peninsula Clarion newspaper. "It was unsettling. Some things got knocked over, but there was no damage."

There were reports of scattered power outages from the Matanuska Electric Association and Chugach Electric in the Anchorage area. The Homer Electric Association reported on its website that about 4,800 customers were without power early Sunday in the Kenai Peninsula.

The Alaska Department of Transportation reported on its Facebook page that there was road damage near the community of Kasilof, on the Kenai Peninsula.

Andrew Sayers, 26, of Kasilof was watching television when the quake struck.

"The house started to shake violently. The TV we were watching fell over, stuff fell off the walls," he said. "Dishes were crashing, and we sprinted toward the doorway."

Later, he was driving to his mother's home when he came across a stretch of K-Beach road that was damaged in the quake.

"We launched over this crack in the road. It's a miracle we didn't bust our tires on it," he said.

Sayers took video of the road damage.

Fire departments in Kenai, Anchorage and other communities received calls about the quake.

Alaska response personnel staffed the State Emergency Operations Centers in Anchorage and called communities that could have been impacted by the earthquake, Jeremy Zidek, the spokesman for the Alaska Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said in an email to The Associated Press.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough reported some damage, but didn't request additional assistance within 90 minutes of the quake, Zidek said.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said in a statement Sunday that he was relieved there wasn't more damage. He urged all Alaskans to have a response plan for when a major natural disaster takes place.

The hashtag #akquake was trending early Sunday on Twitter, where people were sharing their experiences of the quake and posting photos of items that had fallen off walls and shelves.

After reaching his mother's house, Sayers checked on his grandparents, who live about a mile away.

"No damage, except their Christmas tree fell over," he said.

Andrea Conter, 50, of Anchorage, said she was surprised by the quake's strength.

"This was a wild one," the former Southern California resident said. "I looked at the closed-circuit cameras at work and it lasted over 50 seconds and that is considerable for an earthquake."

"When I bought my house in Anchorage I had a geological map that shows what are the sturdiest parts of town and there were a few where I said, 'If there's an earthquake, that house is toast,'" Conter said. "That's how I chose my house. Literally. Drove my real estate agent nuts. But, I didn't have one thing fall in my house. It was kind of clutch."

A tsunami is not expected as a result of the earthquake, the National Weather Service said.