Alaska News

Residents return to Kenai neighborhood where homes burned after earthquake

A major road in a Kenai neighborhood that lost four homes to fire after Sunday's 7.1 earthquake broke natural gas lines has been reopened.

Local authorities on Sunday afternoon briefly reopened Lilac Lane, as well as parts of Cook Inlet View Drive and Wells Way, to residents of the area evacuated after the 1:30 a.m. temblor. The roads were closed again, however, amid concerns about residual natural gas in the area.

Kenai Fire Department officials said on the department's Facebook page at about 10:30 a.m. Monday that Lilac Lane had reopened.

"As of this morning Lilac Lane is reopened and most of the residents have returned home," fire officials wrote.

Firefighters subsequently warned that Lilac hadn't been reopened for people to "drive through to look at the damage," saying three vehicles had driven through the middle of a scene where crews with natural gas utility Enstar were still removing pockets of gas from the ground and buildings.

"One of these three drivers was smoking a cigarette!" firefighters wrote. "When the scene is safe, the barricades will be removed, and the local residents will be advised. Everyone else needs to stay away from the area."

Firefighters asked anyone who hadn't yet spoken with Enstar to call the company at 907-277-5551, to meet Enstar representatives and reactivate their natural gas service.

Of the 24 homes where Enstar shut off service because of earthquake damage, Hobson said, 12 remained without service early Monday. Eight of the homes needed to have their gas systems relit, but five of them didn't yet have the homeowners present -- a requirement for relighting.

The Homer Electric Association said on Facebook that it had restored power to the majority of the neighborhood's meters by late Sunday, with the rest pending word from firefighters.

"Fifteen meters will remain de-energized tonight at the request of fire officials due to hazardous conditions," HEA officials wrote.

One of the houses that burned was rented by Jason Antebi. He and his family were evacuated to the shelter at the armory before anything happened to their home, he told The Associated Press.

"Actually my fiancee ... and myself went outside, and we could smell gas and we saw the house ... our next-door neighbor, it was on fire," Antebi said.

It wasn't until someone came to the armory around 8 a.m. and showed him a picture of his house engulfed in flames that Antebi knew for sure what was going on, he said.

"It was like a big shock," he said. "When we left, there really didn't seem like there was anything major going on."

His family made it out with no injuries, but Antebi said their pets were still in the house when they were evacuated.

"I'm worried that we lost our animals," he said.

The American Red Cross of Alaska said on its Facebook page that the shelter established for evacuated residents -- at the Alaska Army National Guard armory in Kenai -- remained open Monday morning to provide assistance and information.

Red Cross spokeswoman Beth Bennett said six people used the shelter overnight Sunday. The number was expected to fall after the reopening of Lilac Lane.

"I think we are down to three or four people still in the shelter," Bennett said. "Those are people we will be working with on a one-on-one basis, due to home fire loss."

Bennett said the demands on the shelter varied, falling from an initial peak of 30 people, due to the changing status of natural gas concerns -- and hence evacuations -- in the area.

"This one was a little bit different for us, because we had evacuations and then they were lifted and then they were evacuated again," Bennett said.

Going into Monday afternoon, Bennett said, Red Cross staff were awaiting word from firefighters and the Kenai Peninsula Borough on whether the shelter would be needed overnight.

"Basically we're taking direction from them," Bennett said.

Firefighters urged anyone with donations for families affected by the fire not to bring supplies to the National Guard shelter and instead contact the Red Cross at 907-646-5401 or make cash donations through the Pick.Click.Give. Permanent Fund dividend donations program. They also thanked people who had offered assistance or volunteer work since the quake struck.

"Makes you proud to live in Kenai," firefighters wrote.

Also on Monday morning, state road crews began to repair a damaged section of Kalifornsky Beach Road that saw a lane closure at Mile 1 near Kasilof shortly after the earthquake.

Repair work on the road began at about 9 a.m. Monday morning, said Department of Transportation and Public Facilities spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy. She said damage extended along a 150-foot stretch of the road, where "the northbound lane cracked and sloughed about 1-and-a-half feet."

"They just started cutting the pavement about an hour and a half ago," McCarthy said. "It should move pretty quickly."

According to McCarthy, material will be added to fill gaps in the roadbed before crews relevel and repave it with the removed sections of asphalt.

One lane of the road should remain open in alternating directions during the repair work, McCarthy said.

Associated Press material is included in this story.