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7.0 earthquake, aftershocks strike Southcentral Alaska; damage reported across region

Vine Road, south of Wasilla, was heavily damaged by an earthquake on November 30, 2018. (Marc Lester / ADN)

A 7.0 earthquake jolted Anchorage and the rest of Southcentral Alaska on Friday morning, cracking and collapsing roads and highways, damaging buildings, knocking out power and sending people scrambling outside and under furniture. The shaking left many homes a mess and aftershocks continued through the night and into Saturday morning.

A number of injuries, at least one serious, were reported in Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. A homeowner fighting a fire caused by the earthquake at his home in Houston suffered serious airway burns, Houston fire officials said. Hospitals in Anchorage and Mat-Su reported injuries such as lacerations from broken glass. A patient came to Alaska Regional Hospital with a broken arm.

The earthquake’s epicenter was in the Mat-Su Borough, on Point MacKenzie to the north of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, according to the Alaska Earthquake Center. It violently shook the most populous region of the state at about 8:30 a.m., just as people were settling in to work and school, but was felt as far as Tok and Valdez.

Some people ducked under tables for cover. Others braced beneath doorways, riding out the seismic roller coaster amid the sound of breaking glass and falling photos.

Seismologists called the quake the most significant in the state’s largest city since the 1964 Good Friday earthquake, in terms of how strong the ground itself shook.

“What happened in Anchorage was an emotionally disturbing event, a lot of people were very scared," state seismologist Michael West said.

Near the quake’s epicenter on Point MacKenzie, the shaking started as Gary Foster was getting his 7- and 10-year-olds ready for the school bus.

The house went dark. Foster grabbed a light and raced up pitch-black undulating stairs to grab his 5-year-old daughter in a second-floor bedroom before running back down, the whole place still gyrating, and outside with his family.

“We went out and stayed in the car for a couple hours just to see what it was going to do,” he said.”I just didn’t trust it to come back in.”

Gov. Bill Walker issued a declaration of disaster Friday morning that was approved Friday afternoon by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The quake inflicted serious structural damage on roads and bridges throughout the region. Some roads, especially in the Mat-Su, remained impassable Friday afternoon. Schools in Anchorage and Mat-Su are closed until Wednesday so officials can check for damage.

The city of Anchorage declared a civil disaster declaration to access state resources, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz told reporters Friday.

“The amount of infrastructure damage has been mitigated in large part by how we build things here and the level of preparation,” Berkowitz said.

The quake spawned more than 200 aftershocks in 12 hours, including a sharp jolt felt widely in Anchorage around 10:26 a.m. and another series of aftershocks just before 11 a.m. At least four of the aftershocks were 5.0 and one measured 5.7. Lighter aftershocks continued to be felt through the afternoon and evening.

The earthquake shook buildings violently, cracking walls, making some store floors a mess, and leaving office desks covered with dust from shaking ceiling tiles. Home chimneys crumbled, garages collapsed, and household items shattered on the floor.

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A tsunami warning for Southcentral Alaska including Kenai, Kodiak and the shores of Cook Inlet was canceled around 10 a.m. The trans-Alaska pipeline was shut down as a precaution, according to Alaska Pipeline Services. It was restarted Friday afternoon.

Hospitals in Anchorage canceled elective surgeries and kept only emergency rooms open. Mat-Su Regional Medical Center remained open.

Road damage

The Glenn and Seward highways in town reopened early Friday afternoon, according to an update from Anchorage police. But detours and delays continue.

Damage was a moving target, with new updates still coming in Friday evening.

There were several reports of serious road damage. The Glenn Highway had closed north of Eagle River because of damage to the southbound Eagle River bridge, and an on-ramp at the interchange of International Airport Road and Minnesota Boulevard collapsed.

A section of highway between Eklutna and Mirror Lake cracked and crumbled, closing southbound lanes for several days, according to Alaska Department of Transportation project engineer Rod Cummings. Southbound traffic will be routed around the area until crews can repair the damage.

The Palmer exit off the highway was closed after a gap appeared between the abutment and the bridge, officials said.

Vine Road near Wasilla also suffered major damage and a section is closed. From above, the heavily used connector road looked like a giant bowling ball hit it. Point MacKenzie Road sustained serious damage as well.

“This was a big one,” DOT spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy said.

Other closures included periodic detours at Knik River Bridge; detours on Dowling Road at C Street due to a large crack in the roadway; and detours on Eagle River Loop Road at Mills Bay Drive due to a sinkhole.

The Seward Highway south of Anchorage was closed at Mile 112 — McHugh Creek — in both directions because of a rockslide but reopened by Friday afternoon.

Damage through Southcentral

The Federal Aviation Administration control tower at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport was not allowing arrivals as of noon Friday, FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer said in an email. By early afternoon, the stoppage was lifted and both arrivals and departures were allowed.

Anchorage fire chief Jodie Hettrick told reporters on Friday morning that visitors to Anchorage should prepare to stay with family or friends Friday night, as well as residents without power. Four emergency shelters have opened in the quake’s aftermath: at the Egan Center in downtown Anchorage, the Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center, the Curtis D. Menard Memorial Sports Center in Wasilla and the Girdwood Fire Department.

Michelle Drury deals with earthquake damage Nov. 30, 2018, in A Whole Latte Love Coffee Shop stand on West Dimond (Shaynah Drury photo)

Anchorage and Mat-Su fire crews responded to a number of fires and collapsed buildings after the shaking stopped. There were four structure fires in Anchorage, and Hettrick said she was still getting details on the collapsed buildings, but they appeared to be smaller structures.

Officials with the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility also reported more than two dozen pipe breaks throughout the city. The utility fielded about 70 requests to turn off residential water service because of flooding, officials said.

Anyone who notices major structural cracks in their home should evacuate, Hettrick said.

Officials with the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility also reported numerous pipe breaks throughout the city.

The Alaska Railroad shut down all operations due to severe damage at the railroad’s Anchorage Operations Center on Ship Creek, including the dispatch center, according to spokesman Tim Sullivan. The center is closed by flooding from burst pipes and the power is out.

No trains were running when the quake hit, but service can’t resume until crews assess damage, Sullivan said. It will be a day or two before that happens.

A ramp from International Airport Road to Minnesota Drive was damaged in an earthquake on November 30, 2018. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Power outages and gas leaks

There were reports of power and phone outages in the region. Traffic was backed up throughout Anchorage as people headed home to check on damage, and some traffic lights had gone dark.

The Southcentral Alaska gas utility, Enstar, had received more than 300 reports of natural gas leaks by late afternoon, officials said.

Utilities planned to work into the night to restore service to customers.

Matanuska Electric Association, based in Palmer but with members to Eagle River, reported 50,000 members without power just after the quake. Chugach Electric Association reported more than 8,500 without power initially.

The power stayed on at the University of Alaska Anchorage, but the campus was closed as was Mat-Su College.

All Southcentral jails were operating on generator power in the hours after the earthquake. The Anchorage jail complex and Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River both had water line breaks that caused a temporary shut off all water, according to DOC spokeswoman Megan Edge.

Hiland was also without heat for much of the day. By Friday evening, the heat was back on at Hiland except for in two housing units, said Edge. The facilities were considered “safe and secure,” she said.

Alaska postal officials announced a temporary suspension of mail delivery and retail operations in Anchorage, Eagle River and Wasilla due to the earthquake, according to an announcement Friday afternoon.

Some deliveries were made across the area, but delivery operations were suspended at the request of state and local emergency operations.

People Mover suspended service as a precautionary measure due to the earthquake, but planned to restore service Saturday. All rides will be free Saturday and Sunday.

Alex DeMarban, Annie Zak, Marc Lester, Madeline McGee, Loren Holmes, James Brooks, Matt Tunseth and Julia O’Malley contributed to this story.

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