Af­ter­shocks rock Alaskans af­ter big earth­quake

The Beaufort Gazette (Sunday) - - Stay Connected - 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 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 be­yond, 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

“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 start dis­as­ter re­lief ef­forts.

In Ke­nai, south­west of An­chor­age, Bran­don Sla­ton was soak­ing in his bath­tub when the earth­quake struck. The tem­blor cre­ated a pow­er­ful backand-forth slosh­ing that threw him out of the tub, he said.

His 120-pound mas­tiff pan­icked and tried to run down the stairs, but the house was sway­ing so much that the dog was thrown into a wall and tum­bled down the stairs, Sla­ton said.

Sla­ton ran into his son’s room af­ter the shak­ing stopped. The boy’s fish was on the floor, gasp­ing, its tank shat­tered. Sla­ton put the fish in a bowl.

“It was an­ar­chy,” he said. “There’s no pic­tures left on the walls, there’s no power, there’s no fish tank left. Ev­ery­thing that’s not tied down is broke.”

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. 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 a quake this big to strike so close to such a heav­ily pop­u­lated area.

David Harper was get­ting cof­fee at a store when the low rum­ble be­gan and in­ten­si­fied into some­thing that sounded “like the build­ing was just go­ing to fall apart.” He ran for the exit with other pa­trons.

“Peo­ple who were out­side were ac­tively hug­ging each other,” he said. “You could tell that it was a bad one.”


Road crew mem­bers, re­porters and res­i­dents sur­vey earth­quake dam­age to an of­framp Fri­day on the Min­ne­sota Drive Ex­press­way in An­chor­age, Alaska. While there were no re­ports of deaths or se­ri­ous in­juries, of­fi­cials said the mag­ni­tude-7 quake, cen­tered 9 miles north of the city, had crip­pled lo­cal in­fra­struc­ture and could take weeks or longer to re­pair.

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