Anchorage swamped with requests for earthquake damage inspections

Some 1,200 properties in the Anchorage area are awaiting public earthquake damage inspections, more than a month after the powerful quake shook Southcentral Alaska, city officials say.

The mounting backlog has overwhelmed Anchorage’s building department, and comes as a deadline approaches for disaster aid. Jan. 29 is the last day to apply for a state individual assistance grant at Grants could provide up to $17,450 to cover damage that affects a person’s ability to live in the home.

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has also requested federal aid, a monthslong process that could open up more money for repairs.

[Here’s how to apply for a disaster recovery grant for earthquake damage]

A building inspection is not a prerequisite to apply for state or federal aid, officials stressed. In fact, even if the extent of damage to a building isn’t confirmed, don’t wait to start an application, said Jeremy Zidek, spokesman for the state’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. New applications will not be accepted after Jan. 29, Zidek said.

“We would rather tell people no (than) to have a person pass on an opportunity for assistance because they are unsure what is eligible under our program,” Zidek wrote in an email Monday.

A possible sign of serious damage is cracked drywall, Zidek said. But if the damage turns out to be only cosmetic, the request for aid will be turned down, Zidek said.

The state is sending out teams of inspectors to verify reports of damage, Zidek said. For homeowners with financial means, it’s best to start repairs now and keep detailed documentation for reimbursement, Zidek said.

Property owners in the Mat-Su Borough who need help assessing damage will have to use private engineers to assess damage, since does not do public inspections, so residents are using private engineers, said Casey Cook, the emergency services manager. He added that property owners should keep receipts and apply for state aid.

Meanwhile, Anchorage will likely be working through its inspection backlog for the next several months, said Ross Noffsinger, the city’s acting building official. The city will inspect properties anywhere in the municipality for free, though Noffsinger said homeowners who can afford it may want to call a contractor or private engineer to come out sooner. The city can legally declare a structure unfit for occupancy.

Significant damage is still being uncovered, Noffsinger said, though most buildings are not dangerous.

“We’re triaging the inspections as they come in and getting out to what appears to be the most dangerous ones,” Noffsinger said. Buildings with more minor damage will have to wait longer, Noffsinger said.

No new inspectors are being hired. The extra workload is being managed with overtime for now, Noffsinger said.

More than 750 homes and buildings have been deemed damaged so far, and hundreds more sustained minor damage, city officials have said.

The Mat-Su Borough does not do public inspections, said emergency services manager Casey Cook. Cook said homeowners were being advised to keep receipts and apply for state aid.

To talk to someone about state assistance grants, call the hotline at 1-855-445-7131. Here’s a Q&A about it.