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Anchorage Counts Its Blessings After Dodging a Significant Catastrophe

Soil liquefaction from Friday's earthquake caused a highway offramp near Anchorage International Airport to collapse.

Soil liquefaction from Friday's earthquake caused a highway offramp near Anchorage International Airport to collapse. Mike Dinneen / AP Photo

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

A culture of preparedness and good fortune helped Alaska’s largest city avoid a major quake disaster.

Anchorage and much of south-central Alaska was spared a major disaster with Friday’s 7.0 magnitude earthquake, which despite delivering the most severe shaking to the state’s largest city since the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake, and its aftershocks did relatively minor damage.

Although the strong shaking caused some damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure, most of Anchorage and the surrounding area saw mostly cosmetic damage. Instances of greater damage were limited.

"I think the fact we went through something this significant with this minimal amount of damage says we're a very well-prepared community, that our building codes and our building professionals have done a terrific job making sure that what we have here is appropriate for the place we live," Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said during a press conference on Friday.

No fatalities were reported and there were only a few injuries.

In Anchorage, only two houses saw significantly damage but did not collapse, city officials said. A third caught fire.

Infrastructure in and around Anchorage was mostly in good shape following the quake, though some roads and highways suffered damage due to soil liquefaction or rock slides.

“We aren’t seeing any significant bridge damage,” City Manager Bill Falsey said during a press conference on Saturday, though local utilities were responding to gas and water pipeline ruptures, which in some cases drew down water in reservoirs.    

“The water delivery system is functioning and we believe it will continue to function,” Falsey said. A boil-water advisory was in place for Anchorage only out of an abundance of caution due to limited risk of intrusion of bacteria into fractured water mains.  

Most importantly, the supply chain from the Lower 48 that all Alaskans rely on has not been significantly disrupted. Anchorage International Airport saw minimal damage to its facilities and inspections at the Port of Anchorage showed it also turned out well, Falsey said.

“The port seems to be in very good shape,” Falsey said. “And a further reminder: There is no need to make a run to any grocery store to start stocking or hoarding materials,” including fuel. “The usual supply chain is a go. We should be fine in that regard.”  

“We are returning to normal, which is a good thing,” Berkowitz said during a press conference on Saturday. “We know we have to be prepared because we’re never impervious to earthquakes or the weather.”

As the Los Angeles Times reported on Saturday, the situation could have been far different had Friday’s earthquake and aftershocks struck directly under Anchorage instead of just a few miles to the north in a lightly populated area of the neighboring Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

The worst shaking from Friday's earthquake was just to the north and west of Anchorage. (Image via USGS)

The quake’s relatively deep epicenter—25 miles down—limited the severity of the shaking at the surface. Heidi Tremayne, director of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, told the L.A. Times that it helped that Anchorage, which was founded in 1914, is a newer city with relatively few older buildings. Most of the vulnerable structures in Anchorage were destroyed in the 1964 9.2 magnitude quake, which devastated much of south-central Alaska. If Friday's quake had been shallower and under the city, Anchorage would have likely seen far greater damage.

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Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.

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