A 7.0 earthquake centered in Anchorage rattled much of Southcentral Alaska on Nov. 30 and aftershocks, some of considerable strength, continued to rattle the area on Dec. 1.
Road systems suffered significant damage, from severe fractures in main roads, including the Glenn Highway northbound from Anchorage, plus ramp collapses and rock slides on the Seward Highway, which connects the Kenai Peninsula to Anchorage.
While some homes, businesses and government buildings had structural damage, no deaths were reported.
A resident of the Chugiak area about 20 miles north of Anchorage said she could hear those aftershocks coming, with mountains near her home cracking, like someone was hitting the mountain with a huge metal ax.
Many homes had extensive damage from falling objects, from bookshelves to large fish tanks and kitchenware, including dishes and coffee mugs.
With a touch of classic Alaska humor, some suggested on social media that “if you have family in Alaska and need Christmas ideas, we all need new dishes.”
As damage assessments, initial repairs and cleanup got underway, weather forecasts were for high winds and the possibility of up to about eight inches of snow for areas of Southcentral Alaska.
Mental health authorities in Anchorage, during a news conference on Dec. 1, urged those with friends and family dealing with mental health issues, as well as those with pets, to stick to their normal routine and make an extra effort to keep connected socially with those around them.
A tsunami warning issued for coastal areas, including Cordova, Cook Inlet and the southern Kenai Peninsula, was cancelled, and for the most part, by Saturday, Dec. 1, power, water and natural gas services were restored.
Gov. Bill Walker quickly issued a disaster declaration, and at Walker’s request, the Trump administration issued a federal emergency declaration to assist local, state and non-government response and recovery efforts.
Walker, who was among officials doing an aerial assessment of the damage from a Black Hawk helicopter, said Alaskans have a lot to be thankful for, and offered thanks to all those on a federal, state and local level, including first responders, for their efforts.
“We are no stranger to earthquakes, but each one brings its own special challenges,” said Walker, who was a boy growing up in Valdez during the 1964 Good Friday earthquake. “This one was very strong.”
Walker and other officials, including Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, credited the important role played by upgraded building codes in the wake of the 1964 Good Friday earthquake, how Alaskans have been quick to check on neighbors to be sure they were okay, and a general lack of civil disobedience or looting.
It has been, said Berkowitz, “a demonstration that Anchorage is prepared for these kinds of emergencies, that people pull together, look after one another. Anchorage did this right.”
The Port of Anchorage, critical to the state’s economy, was being assessed for damages, but remains open to inbound and outbound maritime traffic. The Alaska Railroad meanwhile shut down all operations because of damages at its operations center at Ship Creek in Anchorage.
In Washington D.C., the state’s congressional delegation said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, has committed to provide whatever assistance the state of Alaska requires in response and recovery from the earthquake.
The federal Department of Transportation on Dec. 1 announced the immediate availability of $5 million in “quick release” emergency relief funds to begin repairs on roads and bridges damaged by the quake, in order to restore essential traffic lanes and prevent additional damage.
“Alaskans are incredibly resilient, but that doesn’t mean that when you’re hit with something of this intensity it doesn’t have a substantial and devastating impact,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. “The message I want to convey to friends, family and Alaskans across the state is that we are on top of this.”
“We are focused on making sure every element of federal power, authority and funding is brought to bear on getting Alaska back up and running as soon as possible,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska.
“We will continue to work together as a team to ensure federal assistance is available for Alaskans,” said Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska.
Anchorage authorities also urged area residents shopping at a number of stores reopened, some within hours of the severe earthquake, to stock up on what they needed, but said there is no need for a run on supplies.