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

  • Author: Kyle Hopkins
  • Updated: December 2, 2018
  • Published November 30, 2018

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.

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