Spokespersons for Walker and Dunleavy were on opposite sides of the table. Once the earthquake hit, they found themselves under it.

Austin Baird, the gravel-voiced press secretary for Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, spent his last morning on the job Friday drinking black coffee in downtown Anchorage. Across the table sat his counterpoint, Gov.-elect Mike Dunleavy spokeswoman Sarah Erkmann Ward.

While their bosses were political rivals, Baird and Erkmann Ward are cordial. They agreed to meet at a Sixth Avenue cafe to chat about the upcoming handoff of the governor’s communications department from Walker to Dunleavy.

“We were having this very friendly conversation," Erkmann Ward said.

So why, Baird wondered, was Sarah shaking their table? Then the walls rumbled. People started screaming. A 7.0 magnitude earthquake had seized Anchorage, shredding asphalt, terrifying pets and tossing shelves.

“Things were flying everywhere,” Baird said of the SteamDot coffee shop. “We jumped under the table.”

Baird’s coffee spilled, dousing the back of his suit. As everyone panicked, Erkmann Ward said she realized that they couldn’t have picked a worse place to be in an Anchorage earthquake — just two blocks from Fourth Avenue, where the infamous 1964 earthquake created devastating landslides.

The two political spokespersons embraced, Erkmann Ward said, “Like Rose and Jack on the Titanic.”


“Maybe there was symbolism there, I don’t know," Erkmann Ward said of the bipartisan hug. Her boss, Dunleavy, defeated Democrat Mark Begich. Walker, an independent, dropped out of the race when it became clear he could not win re-election.

“Austin and I will share this bond for the rest of our lives," she said.

Related stories:

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

Utilities will work through night to fix widespread gas leaks and outages after 7.0 earthquake

Inspections underway across Southcentral Alaska for structural damage after earthquake, aftershocks

At 8:29 Friday morning, everyone emerged from Alaska’s big earthquake with a story to tell

State seismologist: 'Emotionally disturbing' quake was Anchorage's most powerful since 1964

Federal disaster declared for Southcentral earthquake

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

Here’s how you can help those still reeling from the earthquake

Earthquake rattles shelves and shatters products at Anchorage businesses

APD: Southbound Glenn Highway temporarily closed to allow rush-hour traffic north out of Anchorage

Injuries, road damage and gas leaks reported in Mat-Su after 7.0 earthquake

Wasilla water safe to drink, Anchorage residents asked to boil as a precaution

Photos: Earthquake damage from the air

Anchorage schools, many Mat-Su schools to be closed Monday and Tuesday


Spokespersons for Walker and Dunleavy were on opposite sides of the table. Once the earthquake hit, they found themselves under it.

Photos: Ground-level views of the earthquake damage

Anchorage airport open again for arrivals after landings were halted due to earthquake

Tsunami warning canceled for Kenai Peninsula communities

Do you smell gas or hear hissing? Here’s how to shut off your gas after an earthquake

Oil and gas industry reports precautionary shutdowns, little earthquake damage

Earthquake information from public agencies, utilities and news staff

List of closures: Schools and services affected by Friday’s earthquake


State volleyball at Dimond on hold after earthquake; Alaska Airlines Center gym floor flooded

President Trump tweets encouragement to Alaska after earthquake

Kyle Hopkins

Kyle Hopkins is special projects editor of the Anchorage Daily News. He was the lead reporter on the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Lawless" project and is part of an ongoing collaboration between the ADN and ProPublica's Local Reporting Network. He joined the ADN in 2004 and was also an editor and investigative reporter at KTUU-TV. Email khopkins@adn.com