More than 500 small earthquakes have hit parts of Alaska since Friday, when a 7.0-magnitude quake knocked out power, ripped open roads and splintered buildings near Anchorage.
“This is the second largest earthquake we’ve had since 1964, which was a very significant earthquake,” Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz told reporters Saturday, referring a historic magnitude-9.2 quake that was the most powerful recorded temblor in US history.
“But in terms of a disaster, I think it says more about who we are than what we suffered. I would characterize this as a demonstration that Anchorage is prepared for these kind of emergencies.”
Despite damage to roads and buildings, no fatalities or serious injuries were reported, officials said. In Alaska’s largest city – with a population of about 300,000 – airports, hospitals, emergency services and most businesses were operating. “The bottom line on the utility structure is that the power is up, the heat is on, the communication lines are opening,” said Anchorage Municipal Manager Bill Falsey.
Most of the smaller earthquakes since Friday’s big one were not felt. More than a dozen were higher than magnitude 4 and a handful greater than magnitude 5, Falsey said. But a magnitude-5.2 aftershock about 11 p.m. Friday was the second-biggest event since a magnitude-5.7 temblor hit minutes after the main quake, according to Gavin Hayes, a research geophysicist with the USGS.
“That would have given people a shake and probably a bit of a scare given what they went through yesterday,” he told CNN on Saturday.
The magnitude-7.0 earthquake sent residents scurrying for cover when it hit about 8:30 a.m. Friday local time. The quake was centered 10 miles northeast of Anchorage, the state’s largest city.
“The most striking thing about this event was that it was so close to Anchorage,” Hayes said. “That’s why it has caused the damage that we’re seeing. Had it been a little further away from Anchorage I don’t think it would be getting very much attention. It’s not an unusual earthquake in the perspective of the tectonics of the region.”
‘This was a big one’
Roads buckled under passing cars and grocery store products tumbled from shelves. In court, panicked attorneys scurried under tables as a room rocked from side to side.
“It was very loud when it came,” Berkowitz said Friday. “It was very clear that this was something bigger than what we normally experience. We live in earthquake country … but this was a big one.”
Palmer resident Kristin Dossett described the initial jolt as “absolutely terrifying.” It was the biggest quake she has felt in her 37 years in a region where temblors are common, Dossett said. One aftershock moved her piano a foot and half from the wall. “It shook like I have never felt anything shake before,” she said. “It just didn’t stop. It kept going and got louder and louder, and things just fell everywhere — everything off my dressers, off my bookcases, my kitchen cupboard. Just broken glass everywhere.”
Authorities don’t have firm figures on damage yet. Helicopters and drones were assessing infrastructure across the region. The Anchorage School District canceled classes Monday and Tuesday to assess facility damage.
Seismologists predict more aftershocks
Gov. Bill Walker has issued a disaster declaration. Philip Peterson was in a multistory building in downtown Anchorage as the structure swayed and coffee mugs fell from tables and tiles from the ceiling. “I just jumped under my desk and had to ride it out,” Peterson said.
The 7.0 earthquake was felt up to 400 miles outside of Anchorage, said Michael West, the Alaska state seismologist. He called it the most significant earthquake in Anchorage since 1964. “I think it’s safe to say that, not measured in magnitude or location but in terms of how strong the ground itself shook during the earthquake,” he said during a question-and-answer session at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
Two of the city’s main hospitals – Alaska Regional and Providence Alaska Medical Center – sustained damage but emergency rooms were open, according to hospital officials. The Anchorage Police Department reported “major infrastructure damage” across the city.
Still, local officials said life was returning to normal even as four to eight inches of snow were expected on Sunday.