Anchorage was prepared for two recent earthquakes thanks to past experience.
In decades since record quake, city bolstered building codes
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The magnitude 7.0 earthquake that 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 him, grouse about stringent building codes. But he’s “really glad” they were in place, as he had only minor water damage at his home.
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.
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.
By mid-morning, 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.
After the first earthquake, Alaska’s largest hospital activated its incident command center, but the trickle of patients into the emergency room at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage was more like that of a normal workday and not a mass-casualty event. The injuries were described as minor, and there were no patients with life-threatening conditions.
Roads didn’t fare so 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 inspect bridges Saturday.
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 800-mile trans Alaska oil pipeline was shut down for hours while crews were sent to inspect it for damage.
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.
Repair work is done Friday to an offramp that collapsed in the earthquakes that hit Anchorage, Alaska.