Aftershocks of 7.0 quake rattle Southcentral Alaska

Extensive damage, no deaths reported as assessment, repairs

Aerial photo showing road damage near the intersection of Minnesota Drive and W. International Airport Road in Anchorage after a 7.0 earthquake Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018. Photo courtesy Alaska Civil Air Patrol

A 7.0 earthquake centered in Anchorage shook much of Southcentral Alaska on Nov. 30 and aftershocks, some of considerable strength,continue to rattle the area.

Road systems suffered significant damage, from severe fractures in main roads, including the Glenn Highway northbound from Anchorage, to ramp collapses and rock slides on the Seward Highway, which connects the Kenai Peninsula to Anchorage. 

 The Alaska railroad resumed regular service for passengers and freight on Dec. 4.

While some homes, businesses and government buildings had structural and/or water damage no deaths were reported. Assessments of the extent of structural damage was ongoing in public and private office buildings,residential dwellings and other facilities, including two schools – one in Eagle River and another in Houston, that will be closed at least for the remainder of the school year.

A resident of the Chugiak area about 20 miles north of Anchorage said she could hear the aftershocks coming, with mountains near her home cracking, like someone was hitting the mountain with a huge metal ax.

Many residents posted photos on social media of damage from falling objects, from bookshelves, framed photos and art objects to large fish tanks and kitchenware, including dishes and coffee mugs.

 With a touch of classic Alaska humor, some suggested onsocial media that “if you have family in Alaska and need Christmas ideas, we all need new dishes.”

Research geologist Peter Haeussler, who is with the U.S.Geological Survey in Anchorage, said in an interview with KTUU, the NBC news affiliate in Anchorage, that aftershocks from this earthquake could continue for a couple of years, but would decay in intensity over time, but there could still be larger aftershocks. 

 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. The winds came and went, but not the anticipated snowfall.

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 ofdamages 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.