Af­ter­shocks rock Alaskans af­ter ma­jor earth­quake

Star-Telegram (Sunday) - - News - BY RACHEL D’ORO AND DAN JOL­ING

Chris Riekena was driv­ing his 7-year-old son to school when his car started act­ing up. As he pulled over, he re­al­ized the prob­lem wasn’t his car – it was a huge earth­quake.

Riekena turned around to calm his son in the back seat and when he looked for­ward again, the road ahead of him was sink­ing into the earth. He pulled his son out of the car as light poles along the road swayed.

By the time the shak­ing stopped Fri­day, the car just in front of his on the free­way was ma­rooned on an is­land of as­phalt with a huge chasm on both sides.

“It was prob­a­bly a good 30 to 40 sec­onds of slow­mo­tion dis­as­ter,” said Riekena, an en­gi­neer with the Alaska Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion who later re­turned to the site for his job.

“Thank­fully I pulled over when I did,” he said. “I’ve walked around the site enough over the last few hours that I’ve re­played that a few times.”

Back-to-back earth­quakes mea­sur­ing 7.0 and 5.7 cracked high­ways and rocked build­ings Fri­day in An­chor­age and the sur­round­ing area, send­ing peo­ple run­ning into the streets and briefly trig­ger­ing a tsunami warn­ing for is­lands and coastal ar­eas south of the city.

No tsunami ar­rived, and there were no re­ports of deaths or se­ri­ous in­juries.

Af­ter­shocks Satur­day con­tin­ued to fray nerves. U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey Geo­physi­cist Paul Caruso said there have been 545 af­ter­shocks, in­clud­ing the 5.7 mag­ni­tude shaker that came al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter Fri­day’s big quake. Eleven have had mag­ni­tudes of 4.5 or greater.

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

The USGS said the first and more pow­er­ful quake was cen­tered about 7 miles north of An­chor­age, Alaska’s largest city, with a pop­u­la­tion of about 300,000. Peo­ple ran from their of­fices or took cover un­der desks. The 5.7 af­ter­shock ar­rived within min­utes, fol­lowed by a se­ries of smaller quakes.

“We just hung onto each other. You couldn’t even stand,” said Sheila Bai­ley, who was work­ing at a high school cafe­te­ria in Palmer, about 45 miles from An­chor­age, when the quake struck. “It sounded and felt like the school was break­ing apart.”

An­chor­age Po­lice Chief Justin Doll said he had been told that parts of Glenn High­way, a scenic route that runs north­east out of the city past farms, moun­tains and glaciers, had “com­pletely dis­ap­peared.”

The quake broke store win­dows, knocked items off shelves, opened cracks in a two-story build­ing down­town, dis­rupted elec­tri­cal ser­vice and dis­abled traf­fic lights, snarling traf­fic.

Flights at the air­port were sus­pended for hours af­ter the quake knocked out tele­phones and forced the evac­u­a­tion of the con­trol tower. And the 800mile Alaska oil pipe­line was shut down for hours while crews were sent to in­spect it for dam­age.

An­chor­age’s school sys­tem can­celed classes and asked par­ents to pick up their chil­dren while it ex­am­ined build­ings for gas leaks or other dam­age.

Jonathan Let­tow was wait­ing with his 5-year-old daugh­ter and other chil­dren for a school bus near their home in Wasilla, about 40 miles north of An­chor­age, when the quake struck. The chil­dren got on the ground in a cir­cle while Let­tow tried to keep them calm and watched for fall­ing trees.

“It’s one of those things where in your head, you think, ‘OK, it’s go­ing to stop,' and you say that to your­self so many times in your head that fi­nally you think, ‘OK, maybe this isn’t go­ing to stop,’ ” he said.

Soon af­ter the shak­ing ended, the school bus pulled up and the chil­dren boarded, but the driver stopped at a bridge and re­fused to go across be­cause of deep cracks in the road, he said.

Gov. Bill Walker is­sued a dis­as­ter dec­la­ra­tion. And Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump late Fri­day de­clared an emer­gency, which al­lowed the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency to co­or­di­nate dis­as­ter re­lief ef­forts.

Alaska was the site of the na­tion’s most pow­er­ful earth­quake ever recorded. The 9.2-mag­ni­tude quake on March 27, 1964, was cen­tered about 75 miles east of An­chor­age. It and the tsunami it trig­gered claimed about 130 lives.

The state av­er­ages 40,000 earth­quakes a year, with more large quakes than the 49 other states com­bined.

MICHAEL DINNEEN AP

An­chor­age, Alaska, res­i­dent Al Matthews stands with a wa­ter jug out­side his south An­chor­age home as a util­ity crew works to re­pair a wa­ter main dam­aged in an earth­quake Fri­day.

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