Ex­perts: Alaska might have been spared

Dam­age from quake less­ened by codes to beef up struc­tures

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - HEALTH | SCIENCE - By Rachel D’Oro and Mark Thiessen

AN­CHOR­AGE, Alaska — The mag­ni­tude 7.0 earth­quake rat­tled Alaska’s largest city, cracked roads and col­lapsed high­way ramps, but there were no re­ports of wide­spread cat­a­strophic dam­age or col­lapsed build­ings. There’s a good rea­son for that. A dev­as­tat­ing 1964 Alaska earth­quake — the most pow­er­ful on record in the United States — led to stricter build­ing codes that helped struc­tures with­stand the shift­ing earth Fri­day.

“Con­grat­u­la­tions to the peo­ple of Alaska for be­ing re­ally pre­pared for this earth­quake,” U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey geo­physi­cist Paul Caruso said Sat­ur­day. “Be­cause a mag­ni­tude 7.0 in a city like that, you know, it could have been sig­nif­i­cantly worse.”

Gov. Bill Walker said some­times peo­ple, in­clud­ing him­self, grouse about strin­gent build­ing codes. But he’s “re­ally glad” they were in place as he only had mi­nor wa­ter dam­age at his home.

“Build­ing codes mean some­thing,” he said Fri­day.

The quake was cen­tered about 7 miles north of An­chor­age, which has a pop­u­la­tion of about 300,000. Peo­ple ran from their of­fices or took cover un­der desks. A 5.7 af­ter­shock ar­rived within min­utes, fol­lowed by a se­ries of smaller quakes.

The two big back-to-back quakes knocked items off shelves, dis­rupted power, broke store win­dows and briefly trig­gered a tsunami warn­ing for is­lands and coastal ar­eas south of the city. Walker is­sued a dis­as­ter dec­la­ra­tion, and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump de­clared an emer­gency, al­low­ing the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency to co­or­di­nate dis­as­ter re­lief.

There were no re­ports of deaths or se­ri­ous in­juries.

Still, af­ter­shocks Sat­ur­day con­tin­ued to fray nerves, with peo­ple wor­ry­ing about be­ing caught in more mas­sive shak­ers.

“They’re dis­turb­ing, and I’m not putting any­thing away that could fall un­til they calm down,” Ran­dall Ca­vanugh, an An­chor­age at­tor­ney, said fol­low­ing a rest­less night at home. “I kept wak­ing up.”

By mid­morn­ing, there had been about 550 af­ter­shocks, in­clud­ing 11 with mag­ni­tudes of 4.5 or greater, Caruso said.

The af­ter­shocks should be weaker and less fre­quent in the com­ing days, but of­fi­cials can’t say for sure when they’ll stop, he said.

An­chor­age Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said the ex­tent of dam­age was “rel­a­tively small” con­sid­er­ing the scale of Fri­day’s earth­quake. He also cred­ited build­ing codes for min­i­miz­ing struc­ture dam­age.

“In terms of a dis­as­ter, I think it says more about who we are than what we suf­fered,” he said Sat­ur­day at a news brief­ing, adding An­chor­age was pre­pared for such an emer­gency. “Peo­ple pulled to­gether. We fol­lowed the plans that were in place. We looked af­ter one an­other. And when peo­ple around the coun­try and around the world look at this, they’re go­ing to say, ‘We want to do things in the An­chor­age way be­cause An­chor­age did this right.’ ”

Roads didn’t fare well, as re­ports of ex­ten­sive dam­age came in. The Alaska De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion counted about 50 sites with dam­age, in­clud­ing eight con­sid­ered ma­jor. Most of the dam­age was to high­ways north of An­chor­age. The agency also was plan­ning to con­duct bridge in­spec­tions Sat­ur­day.

Trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials said in a re­lease that the af­ter­shocks con­tinue to con­trib­ute to set­tling and ad­di­tional crack­ing. Rock falls ex­ac­er­bated by the af­ter­shocks were caus­ing some prob­lems on the Seward High­way south of An­chor­age.

Nor­mal op­er­a­tions re­sumed at Ted Stevens An­chor­age In­ter­na­tional Air­port af­ter flight op­er­a­tions were sus­pended Fri­day, Trans­porta­tion De­part­ment spokesman Meadow Bai­ley told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

The state av­er­ages 40,000 earth­quakes a year, with more large quakes than the 49 other states com­bined. South­ern Alaska has a high risk of earth­quakes be­cause the Earth’s plates slide past each other un­der the re­gion, but it is rare for ma­jor quakes to strike so close heav­ily pop­u­lated ar­eas.

Joshua Cor­bett / New York Times

An An­chor­age res­i­dent car­ries wa­ter home from a store af­ter a pre­cau­tion­ary boil-wa­ter ad­vi­sory went out fol­low­ing Fri­day’s quake. There were no re­ports of deaths or se­ri­ous in­juries.

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