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‘I just kept going’: The tale of an old Buick, Vine Road and a 7.0 earthquake

People check out Joe Fedewa's 2000 Buick LeSabre amid broken asphalt on Vine Road in the Matanuska Valley on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. He was northbound in the dark when the 7.0 earthquake hit. (Photo by Joe Fedewa)

WASILLA — At the end, he wasn’t really even driving the car.

Joe Fedewa, the Big Lake man now widely known as the Vine Road “car guy,” was just hanging on by the time his beige 2000 Buick LeSabre came to a stop at the sudden cliff of upheaved asphalt that rose in front of the car.

The magnitude 7.0 Point MacKenzie earthquake last Friday was shuddering to an end.

Fedewa’s Buick was entering Alaska earthquake history.

“I don’t even know if I touched the brake till I come to the end,” Fedewa said this week. “It was really close to crevices. I didn’t fall in. ... I was driving it but I really believe God had a hand in this whole thing.”

The northbound onramp for International Airport Rd. at Minnesota Blvd. collapsed Friday morning, Nov. 30, 2018 after a strong earthquake shook southcentral Alaska. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

He joins the legendary quake-car ranks of Tom Sulczynski, whose red GMC became an icon of Friday’s disaster after it became stranded atop an asphalt island amid the crumpled wreckage of a Minnesota Drive off-ramp in Anchorage. He also quickly became known as “the car guy.”

Fedewa, a 63-year-old retired carpenter, didn’t mean to give Sulczynski car-guy competition from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Anchorage’s neighbor to the north where the earthquake was centered.

He just happened to take a drive at 8 a.m. on the road that turned into a national emblem of Alaska’s big earthquake.

Fedewa was headed into Wasilla on Friday morning. He drove over a hill and felt like he hit ice.

“I started swerving around. But then it stopped, so I kept going,” he said. “A couple seconds later it hit really hard. ... It felt like the wheels coming off. So I started slowing down. It quit doing it.”

He looked in his rear-view mirror. The car behind him had pulled over. Interesting, Fedewa thought to himself. That guy must be having the same troubles he was.

“I didn’t know what it was,” he said. “I thought it was my stupid car. I just kept going.”

Joe Fedewa of Big Lake was driving his 2000 Buick Le Sabre northbound on Vine Road in the dark when the 7.0 earthquake hit. Fedewa said, ’the road kind of vanished and wasn't there anymore. ’ His car was damaged by the event and became an icon of the quake in an aerial photograph published in the ADN. Monday, Dec. 3. 2018. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Suddenly, the road looked blacked out. Like it wasn’t there. It still didn’t register, Fedewa said. “Boy, the next thing I knew, I flew off the edge of the road.”

The airbags deployed. One hit him in the face.

“I couldn’t see nuthin',” he said. “I just kind of kept going. I still didn’t know what was going on. I got to the end down there -- 4-, 5-, 6-foot cliff. Then I knew it was an earthquake.”

Vine Road had turned into a series of asphalt steps riven by deep fractures.

Fedewa estimates he was driving about 45 mph as the road ruptured beneath his tires. Somehow he wasn’t hurt.

He got out of the Buick. A pickup teetered on its frame, hanging into the gap over what used to be the oncoming lane. The driver, who’d been running from the gash in case the earth moved again, came running back and helped Fedewa climb out.

Fedewa didn’t really get scared until the next day, when his daughter showed him photos of the scene, which by then was nationally known: the Alaska road that looked like a bomb hit it.

This aerial photo shows damage on Vine Road, south of Wasilla, Alaska, after earthquakes Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. (Marc Lester/Anchorage Daily News via AP)

People were starting to crawl all over the broken sections of pavement. Alaska State Troopers eventually had to order them to stop visiting, taking selfies and otherwise getting in the way. Repair work was supposed to get underway Tuesday.

The Buick got towed out Saturday.

The car left a metal trail of bits and pieces behind. The bumper is wrecked.

Fedewa plans to sell it.

And yes, he’ll disclose its history.

“I’m gonna put it on an ad with a picture of it on Vine Road,” Fedewa said. “This is the world-famous Buick."

[Above: Timelapse drone video of earthquake-damaged Vine Road south of Wasilla. (Video by Kerry Tasker)]

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