Magnitude 7 earthquake rattles Anchorage and Mat-Su
Days after the Nov. 30 earthquake shook Anchorage and the Mat-Su area at a magnitude of 7.0 on the Richter scale, state and federal agencies as well as homeowners are assessing the damage to infrastructure and are beginning to repair roads and buildings. The photo of a car stranded on a crumbled Anchorage road immediately went viral and communicated the severity of the quake. Officials closed the Glenn Highway north of Eagle River because of damage, and the onramp pavement at the interchange of International Airport Road and Minnesota Boulevard collapsed. According to the USGC Alaska Earthquake Center, the earthquake occurred as the result of normal faulting about 7 miles north of Anchorage, at a depth of about 25 miles. The quake’s epicenter was in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, on Point MacKenzie across Knik Arm from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Once the main quake subsided, 1,800 more aftershocks were recorded.
A tsunami warning was issued, but later canceled.
The Nome wrestling team with 13 wrestlers and two coaches was at Grace Christian School in Anchorage at the time and were just about done weighing in as the earthquake began at 8:29 a.m. According to head coach Charlie Cross, some Nome wrestlers were taping up, others had breakfast on the bleachers and one wrestler still needed to be weighed in when the earthquake struck. “We could hear it first, it was like a train was on the roof of the gym,” Cross said. “Then the rumbling and shaking started. The lights were out immediately.” Cross described panicking among some of the 300 wrestlers at the gym, some kids from a different team running down the bleachers and falling. “There was hysteria, but no chaos,” he said. Cross and co-coach Corey Erikson decided on the spot to get the Nome wrestlers out of the building, into the parking lot and into the two rental mini-vans. Cross said one Nome wrestler was already outside and reported seeing the light posts at the parking lot swaying. Once there, they got on their phones and messaged family back in Nome that they were ok After the initial earthquake, Cross said the aftershocks were quite significant, causing him and Erikson to decide to cancel out of the tournament and try to come back to Nome. “There were aftershocks and they were strong, coming one after another,” Cross said. The group retreated to their hotel and managed to get on a flight to Nome on Saturday. They made it to Kotzebue but then were turned around due to runway conditions in Nome that were not conducive for landing. They made it to Nome on Sunday. “As a group they handled the earthquake well,” said Cross. “It’s something they’ll never forget.”
Amanda Toerdal, in Anchorage with Kawerak, Inc. to attend the Bureau of Indian Affairs Providers Conference, said that she was in the hotel room on the seventh floor of Tower 3 at the Hotel Captain Cook and getting ready to leave for a meeting. “I was just coming out of the bathroom when the earthquake hit. It was so loud, my first instinct was to run to the window to look outside, as it sounded like there was an airplane coming at the window or something hitting against the side of the building,” she reported. “When everything was moving around me, the building swaying, drawers rattling, I realized it was an earthquake and went to stand in the doorjamb. A guy ran by my room and saw me, and joined me in my doorway. After the swaying started to slow down, we bolted for the emergency exit and ran downstairs, along with all of the cleaning ladies from that floor. I left everything behind in my room, including my phone. As soon as I got down to the lobby, the big aftershock hit, rattling the place again. It was pretty chaotic, with people running for the exits, some ceiling tiles falling, lots of dust, and some lights coming loose from the ceiling. The concierge was trying to get people to stay inside and take cover, to avoid broken glass that could fall down the side of the building. Fight or flight took hold for most though, and people bolted out of the doors as fast as they could. It was a long day of aftershocks and tremors, leaving no time for the nerves to calm down,” she said.
Stephanie Johnson of Nome was also in Anchorage, but on her way to the airport to fly back to Nome when the earthquake struck. “I had just checked out the Lakefront Hotel and had just sat down in my rental car when the earthquake hit,” she wrote in an email to the Nugget. “I literally thought someone was jumping up and down on my back bumper because the car was moving up and down very quickly. When the car started moving from side to side and I noticed the other parked cars moving and the street lights moving, I realized this might me an earthquake! I had never experienced an earthquake and had nothing to compare it to so I just sat there not knowing what to do. It was a terrifying experience. The only thing I can compare the movement to is an amusement park ride.”
Alaska Airlines at 11:45 a.m. suspended operations out of Anchorage until 1:08 p.m. that day.
ADN reports that initially knocked out power to 50,000 people in the Mat-Su borough. Borough firefighters responded to dozens of calls ranging from people trapped beneath debris to water- and gas-line breaks and structure fires. The Houston Middle School sustained the most damage and the school district announced it remains closed.
Governor Bill Walker announced that all state offices in Anchorage, Eagle River, Wasilla and Palmer closed for business on Monday, December 3. “Due to extensive damage on the Glenn Highway, between miles 23-25 (Eklutna to Mirror Lake), the Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT&PF) is requested that agencies keep employees at home, if possible,” a press release read. “The Glenn Highway remains open but will be limited to one lane of traffic in either direction through the Eklutna to Mirror Lake section.”
The earthquake happened right in the transition time from Governor Bill Walker going out and incoming Governor Mike Dunleavey taking over. The governor-elect spent Friday at the State Emergency Operations Center at JBER with Governor Walker. Walker was in charge of the SEOC, but has given Dunleavy full access to all information coming in and out of the center. As the new administration took over, it announced that the new commissioners took over their respective departments on December 3. “This transfer of authority takes place without interruption due to the high level of cooperation from all the departments, and a shared purpose with the new administration to respond to the disaster,” a press release from Dunleavey’s office said.
The DOT issued a statement saying that damage from the 7.0 earthquake was primarily located in Anchorage and surrounding areas, but the strong quake was felt across the state. Road and bridges from Valdez to Tok to Fairbanks and throughout Anchorage, are being inspected. The Alaska Marine Highway System inspected terminals and no damage was reported. The Whittier Tunnel was also inspected and found to be in good shape.
Across Anchorage, at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and at state owned facilities, crews are conducting inspections and repair work. Contractors are working with the department to help with the immense amount of work.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration announced the immediate availability of $5 million in “quick release” Emergency Relief funds to help begin repairs on roads and bridges damaged by the earthquake in Alaska. The funds were approved shortly after being requested by Governor Walker and Alaska Department of Transportation Commissioner Luiken. “The earthquake devastated roads and bridges across south-central Alaska, and these emergency funds will help reopen important sections of road more quickly to speed the overall recovery,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao. A section of the Seward Highway was closed in both directions because of a rockslide but is now open. The $5 million in “quick release” funding will be used to pay for the repairs made to restore essential traffic and prevent additional damage at emergency repair locations in Anchorage and surrounding areas. Damage assessments are still underway. This initial “quick release” payment is considered a down payment on the costs of short-term repairs while the state continues damage assessments for long-term repairs, a press release said.
According to the USGS, at the location of this earthquake, the Pacific plate is moving towards the northwest with respect to the North America plate at about 57 millimeter per year, in a downward and sideways movement of the edge of the plate beneath Alaska at the Alaska-Aleutians Trench. “The location and mechanism of this earthquake indicate rupture occurred on an intraslab fault within the subducting Pacific slab,” USGC concluded. Earthquakes are common in this region. Over the past century, 14 other earthquakes with magnitudes greater than six have occurred within 93 miles of the November 30 event. Two of these – a magnitude 6.6 earthquake in July 1983 and a magnitude 6.4 event in September 1983 – were at a similarly shallow depth and caused damage in the region of Valdez. The magnitude 9.2 “Great Alaska earthquake” of March 1964, was an interface thrust faulting earthquake that ruptured over several hundred kilometers between Anchorage and the Alaska-Aleutians trench, and to the southwest.