Alaska News

Southcentral Alaskans rattled by magnitude 6.2 earthquake

Kara Gately was working as senior watchstander at the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer when the earthquake began -- a jolt, a pause, and then "you felt the rolling."

"We knew it was deep and we knew it was big," Gately said from the center, which was quiet again by noon Thursday. "People were already calling in."

The quake, which struck at 9:51 a.m., was originally reported at magnitude 6.1, although the Alaska Earthquake Information Center later upgraded that to 6.24. In the hour after the ground stopped moving, reports from the National Weather Service and the Alaska Earthquake Information Center put the epicenter 60 miles southwest of Talkeetna at a depth of 103 kilometers, or 64 miles.

Seismologist Natalia Ruppert at the Alaska Earthquake Information Center said the quake was caused by the Pacific plate diving under the North American plate; its depth, she said, will have minimized its impact.

"This was quite deep, so I wouldn't expect any serious damage," Ruppert said in an interview Thursday morning. "Deep earthquakes normally don't produce as many aftershocks as shallow earthquakes, so there will be some aftershocks, but I don't expect there to be too many."

Estimates of the earthquake's duration varied. A retired seismologist who called the National Tsunami Warning Center from Chickaloon pegged it at 75 seconds. While Anchorage residents felt multiple jolts, and buildings shook for long after the earth stopped moving, Ruppert said the quake officially lasted just 10 seconds.

It was felt in Fairbanks, where her office is located, Ruppert said, and as far south as Kodiak, Valdez and Seward. Chickaloon resident Kendra Zamzow said in an email that she felt it from her hillside yurt. In a Carrs grocery store in West Anchorage, jars of spaghetti sauce and bottles of shampoo were shaken off shelves, leaving the floor splattered with spilled product.


At Romig Middle School, tiles fell from the library ceiling, according to Anchorage School District spokesperson Heather Roach, while Service High School senior Brennan Baumgartner said he and his classmates stayed under their desks for about three minutes after an administrator came over the intercom with a take-cover order.

Anchorage residents jolted

In South Anchorage, more than 80 miles from the quake's epicenter, resident Connie Beemer said she and some of her neighbors were frightened out of their houses.

"I grabbed my 5-month-old daughter and ran outside without shoes," Beemer said in an email. "There were a handful of other neighbors who also chose to rather risk the sky falling than our houses."

On the fifth floor of a downtown Anchorage law office, lawyer Allen Clendaniel felt the shaking start slowly and build in intensity.

Out of the corner of his eye, Clendaniel saw bookcases come crashing down in his partner John Wendlandt's office across the hall. Legal volumes, case briefs and files tumbled onto a pair of sofas and spilled over the floor.

Clendaniel said he ran into the office to see if Wendlandt had been pinned under the shelves.

"Luckily, he hadn't come in yet," said Clendaniel, whose office was mostly spared from falling objects.

Clendaniel said he's lived in Anchorage since 1987, and this was the strongest earthquake he's felt.

Elsewhere downtown, Side Street Espresso co-owner George Gee said he has grown callous to rumbling. His shop was shaken repeatedly this summer as construction workers drove piles into the ground next door at the site of the renovated Anchorage Legislative Information Office.

"This building has been pre-tested," he quipped.

So when the quake hit, the photos stayed on the walls and the syrups remained on the shelves.

"Everyone kind of looked at each other," he said. And then, business resumed to normal.

At Urban Greens nearby, employee Andrea Nashalook said while she has grown up in Alaska, she will never grow accustomed to the quakes.

"I'm not used to it," she said of Thursday's earthquake. "I don't like it. It makes me nervous."

On Thursday morning, the 20-year-old and a few other employees at the sandwich and salad shop watched out the window as parked cars rolled slowly back and forth. The group exchanged wide-eyed looks, she said.

By midafternoon, talk from most customers revolved around the earlier shaking, some inserting "quake" into their food selections. She got a few orders for "quake salads," she said.

In Midtown, the quake interrupted a press conference for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan, who had to briefly evacuate the training center where the event was being held.


"Welcome to Alaska," he said to the officials affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of a Commerce who were in the state to deliver the group's endorsement -- one that he joked was "earth-shaking."

The earthquake hit just before the start of morning Rosh Hashanah services at the Lubavitch Jewish Center of Alaska. People were setting up chairs and tables for worshipers to use for the Jewish New Year event, and then "everything stopped," said Esty Greenberg, head of the center's school programs and the rabbi's wife.

"Everyone ran to see that everyone was OK," she said. At the time, she was in the kitchen, where the earthquake rocked the freezer, knocked boxes of noodles from a shelf and shook the congregation's brand-new challah dough mixer, a machine capable of making dough for 50 loaves at a time, Greenberg said.

And at the Alaska Zoo, a playful group of wolves scattered as the quake began. They let out howls, deep, long and loud. As leaves shook from the trees and fences began rattling and clanking, some wolves hunched over in the corners of the enclosure while others ran to higher ground, still howling. By the temblor's end, the animals regrouped, tails between their legs, whimpering.

No comparison to 1964

The science curator at the Anchorage Museum, Greg Danner, said he and a co-worker were in the museum's planetarium previewing a new show when the earthquake hit. Danner was leaning up against a wall and sheltered in place.

Once the shaking subsided, Danner walked through the museum to check for impacts. The exhibitions are bolted down, he said, and he and other museum staff found no major damage.

Then, Danner whipped out a calculator. He curated the museum's exhibition on the 1964 earthquake, which recently came down.

Using the calculator, he figured out that Thursday's 6.2 earthquake was 32,000 times less powerful than the Good Friday earthquake.


Also doing the math were students at Wasilla High School, where, according to principal Amy Spargo, along with a real-time lesson in earthquake response, students got to learn about "exponential scale" when comparing Thursday's quake to the 9.2-magnitude monster that struck Alaska in 1964.

Like their contemporaries at Wasilla High, students at Palmer and Houston high schools hunkered under desks and doorways and kept clear of windows when the shaking started. But despite the epicenter's proximity to Matanuska-Susitna Borough communities, there were no reports of damage "other than books and knickknacks falling off shelves" and no quake-related 911 calls, said borough emergency manager Casey Cook.

"We've had reports that things are fine and there are no new lakes or crevices in the Willow area," Cook said after talking with a Susitna Valley fire chief.

The Big Lake IGA closed for an hour or so Thursday morning to clean up the mess all over the floor -- especially the plastic detergent bottles that ruptured and oozed slick soap everywhere.

"I never though that plastic bottles would break faster than pickle jars," said Diane Meckley, who answered the phone at the store. "You could just see things just dropping from the shelves. We had glass all over the floor, soap."

The coolest thing about the day? "Do you know, the fire department literally called to make sure we were OK," Meckley said.

For Palmer artist Michelle Hotchkiss, the temblor caused a major setback on a big project. She was in the middle of having some of her pen and ink drawings laser-engraved into a custom tabletop when the quake it.

"It caused the laser to jump around and now the swans, mountains, grass and baby moose are all blurry on the right sides," Hotchkiss wrote in an email. "We will have to sand the entire piece of wood down to erase the engraving and start all over."

Alaska notables unruffled

Not every resident's day was disrupted by the morning shake. Two-time Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey was out mushing dogs in Willow when the earthquake hit. He said he didn't even realize there was a quake until he checked his phone and to find a handful of messages wondering if he had felt it.

"I was glad to see my house was still there," Seavey said.

And in Talkeetna, 60 miles from the quake's epicenter, Nagley's General Store lost just one bottle of wine to the shaking -- a "schnazzy bottle of Decoy," as cashier Jolene Pate put it -- while Alaska's most famous feline didn't bat an eye.

Stubbs the orange cat -- sometimes called the town's honorary mayor even though he's not -- weathered all that shaking just fine.


"He's been sleeping a lot lately," Pate said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed a remark by Dan Sullivan to a representative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.