Sun, Dec 02, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Alaska surveys damage from earthquakes

‘BREAKING APART’:The magnitude 7 earthquake broke windows, tore cracks in a building and disrupted air and land transport in the state’s most-populated city


A stranded vehicle sits on a collapsed roadway near Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport after an earthquake in Alaska on Friday.

Photo: Reuters

Chris Riekena was on Friday driving his seven-year-old son to school when his car started acting up. As he pulled over, he realized the problem was not 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 in the air.

By the time the shaking stopped, 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 slow-motion 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 of magnitude 7 and 5.7 shattered highways and rocked buildings 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.

The US Geological Survey said that the first and more powerful earthquake was centered about 12km 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 earthquakes.

“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 70km from Anchorage, when the earthquake struck. “It sounded and felt like the school was breaking apart.”

Anchorage Police Chief Justin Doll said that 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 earthquake 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 Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport were suspended for hours after the earthquake knocked out telephones and forced the evacuation of the control tower.

A 1,288km 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 damage.

Alaska Governor Bill Walker issued a disaster declaration.

He was in an elevator in a high-rise Anchorage office building and said that it was a “rough ride” coming down.

He described the earthquake as a magnitude 7.2, although it was unclear why his figure differed from that of the federal agency.

It would take more than a week or two to repair roads damaged by the earthquake, Walker said.

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