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‘I have nowhere to go': Those displaced by earthquake bide time at Anchorage emergency shelter

  • Author: Madeline McGee
  • Updated: December 2, 2018
  • Published November 30, 2018

Ezekiel Thomas and his wife, Elena Thomas, were in their king-size bed with their 10-month-old daughter Serena Thomas when the magnitude 7.0 earthquake in Anchorage on Friday. They grabbed their two other children, Serenity Thomas, 3, and Ezekiel Thomas, 2, and hugged them close. Ezekiel said the walls on their third-floor Jewel Lake-area Apartment seemed like they were about to collapse. The family evacuated to the Egan Center in downtown Anchorage. They are not sure how long they will be there, as Elena Thomas is reluctant to return home. (Bob Hallinen / ADN)

After a magnitude 7.0 earthquake rocked Anchorage and Southcentral Alaska on Friday morning, the lobby of the Egan Civic & Convention Center downtown was filled with a steady stream of people seeking a place where they could feel safe.

The municipality opened the convention center Friday as an emergency shelter, but when reporters stopped by in the afternoon, there didn’t appear to be an organized effort to provide services. For the handful of people gathered around the lobby, though, that didn’t seem to matter: It was a place with heat and electricity. They could warm themselves, charge their phones and take naps on the lobby’s couches.

Cari Dighton, a spokeswoman for the Alaska chapter of the Red Cross, said the convention center was housing about 40 displaced people as of Friday afternoon. Many had been forced to evacuate nearby hotels that had been damaged, she said.

The Egan Center is one of at least four emergency shelters opened in the aftermath of the earthquake. The others are the Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center in Chugiak, the Curtis D. Menard Memorial Sports Center in Wasilla and the Girdwood Fire Department.

Shannon Sikvayugak had already been staying at the Egan Center emergency shelter for several hours when she spoke to a reporter, looking out a window in the lobby.

“I have nowhere to go,” she said, shaking her head. “I feel so lost.”

Sikvayugak, like many of those at the convention center on Friday, has no permanent home. She said she was staying with a friend at the Ramada Inn on Third Avenue when the shaking began, and she evacuated the building so quickly she didn’t have time to grab her socks, shoes or jacket. With no transportation, she walked a half-mile to the convention center, she said.

A spokeswoman for the Ramada said aside from some pictures knocked off walls and dishes broken, the hotel didn’t suffer any serious damage.

Gerald Frank, who was in his apartment near downtown when the earthquake hit, took advantage of the convention center’s complimentary water coolers to fill up several water bottles. He said he was scheduled to have surgery in Anchorage today, but that was before the hospital called to tell him the procedure would have to be postponed because of power outages.

Brian Ragland was waiting under an awning at the Bean’s Cafe soup kitchen near downtown when the earth began to quake. He got up and went out into the open to keep debris from falling on top of him.

“I’ve never felt the earth shake like that," he said.

Ragland said he left the soup kitchen before he had a chance to eat breakfast, but because many restaurants and grocery stores around town were closed Friday, the only food he’d had to eat was a bag of chips another evacuee shared with him.

“She doesn’t know us,” Ragland said, speaking about the earth. “No matter what gets in her way, she will go forth.”

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