When people saw water sloshing about in ponds, bayous and pools, an earthquake more than 3,000 miles away seemed an unlikely culprit.

"My neighbor actually thought there was an alligator in the pond," said Dan Musmanno, 51, of the New Orleans suburb Belle Chasse. "My neighbor's son went out there and said, 'It ain't no alligator.' The water was going back and forth for about a half hour. It was kind of spooky."

Musmanno said the waves in his pond came up 7 or 8 inches and water sloshed out of his pool from what geophysicists say was the awesome power of a 7.9 magnitude earthquake that rocked a remote area of interior Alaska early Sunday afternoon.

The earthquake cracked highways and roads, knocking over fuel tanks and shaking rural homes in Alaska. Its wake was felt over much of the West and as far away as Louisiana.

"When you have an earthquake of this size, it generates what we call surface waves," said Dale Grant, a geophysicist with U.S. Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo. He said waves of energy travel through the Earth's crust and cause disturbances in water.

In Mandeville, across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, Carol Barcia, 47, was sitting with neighbors on the deck of her house around 5 p.m. when she saw boats bounce around.

"We noticed the sail boats started leaning over, going back and forth, and the boats' lines were just banging up and down. My boat was banging up against the dock. My neighbor's boat broke a line," Barcia said.

"One poor guy across the canal from us fell off his sail boat," said Barcia, a pharmaceutical representative. She said a neighbor rode a boat over and helped the man out of the water.

Grant said he received calls from nuclear power facilities in various states — including Minnesota and Washington — that reported unusual water movement. He said an Oklahoma state geologist also reported that farmers there noticed water in ponds sloshed about.

Throughout the New Orleans area, people were baffled and frightened by what they saw. Paul Martin, Barcia's 59-year-old neighbor, said an iron cleat bolted to the pier that he ties his boat to was pulled out when his boat got tossed around.

"It was quite a sight," he said. "All the boats up and down this bayou were being tossed around like little boats in a bathtub."