Friday, November 30th, 2018 at 8:29 a.m. is a day and time I won’t forget. A day I will remember for the rest of my life. I will talk about it, reminisce about it, and definitely recall how much anxiety it brought to everyone’s lives here in Anchorage and the surrounding communities [Eagle River, The Valley (Wasilla, Palmer, Butte), Willow, Houston, Big Lake, Girdwood, and probably others I am leaving out].
I had gone for a 7 mile run that morning, and returned home at 8:00 a.m. Just enough time to exchange a few words with Craig, trade off parenting duties, and say good-bye before he headed out the door for work around 8:15 a.m.
Cullen was eating breakfast in the kitchen, I was picking up the upstairs–making the beds, putting things away, and then I came down stairs at 8:29 a.m. I was walking back into the kitchen to start my own breakfast when the shaking started.
We get earthquakes fairly often here in Anchorage–at least 5-6 that we feel each year. Sometimes they feel like two tectonics plates slamming into one another, other times it feels like one slips under the other, and most times the ground feels like it shakes back and forth as if you are a characters in a snow globe.
This earthquake started out fairly strong and built quickly. I immediately grabbed Cullen and sat down on the floor with him in my lap. It was so strong that I wouldn’t have been able to stand. I blanked out on what to do, so I sat in an arched walkway between our kitchen and hallway, which is actually right under the stairs. I don’t even remember thinking much while the earthquake was happening. Some people said they thought their house was going to collapse, others thought of loved ones or said prayer, I was a a deer in headlights–nothing ran through my mind. I remember seeing the lights above my kitchen sink that are suspended by cords sway back and forth, and I saw things start to fall, but I was in complete shock of what was going on. Sadie, our dog, was right by me the entire time as well. She was more scared than Cullen, I think.
As soon as the rumbling stopped, I got a call from Craig asking if we were okay. I said we were, and he quickly hung up because he had employees calling him. I stood up with Cullen, and the first thing we saw broken was a crystal bowl of money that I had collected over the years of running. Tears started to well up in Cullen’s eyes when he saw the broken pieces. I thought he was upset about the broken glass bowl, but he was actually sad because he thought the money was damaged and we wouldn’t be able to use it anymore. I explained that the money would be okay, and we would still be able to use it.
Cullen seemed a little scared and shaken, but I did my best to remain calm even though my heart was racing. I called my sister right away to tell her what happened, but she didn’t pick up, so we walked around the rest of the house assessing the damage and taking pictures. When we walked into the living room, I saw all of the items fell off the fire place mantel and another glass decor item had broken along with a fake succulent plant. This was the worst area, but it was in no way nearly as bad as many other’s homes.
We then went upstairs to see what happened. The picture on the wall had fallen off on one side as well as my full-length mirror, which was once again very minor! (I feel kind of silly even posting some of these photos because our “damage” wasn’t even true damage.)
Right after I snapped this picture of the clothes that had fallen off the top shelf of our closet, the first aftershock hit, which was 6 minutes after the first one. I once again dropped to the floor, got in a doorway, and held Cullen on my lap. The aftershock didn’t last long, but it did measure at 5.7 on the Richter scale, which is sizeable.
Within a few minutes, my sister called me back and we FaceTimed for a bit. I showed her the damage and told her what had happened. I also texted my parents and told them we were okay. I started cleaning up since that seemed like the natural thing to do.
Craig came home around 9:15 a.m. and said they had all been sent home for the day. He also said that one of the off-ramps from Minnesota Drive onto International Airport Road had cracked, sunk in, and was closed. We were starting to realize how serious the earthquake was.
We had the radio the rest of the morning, listening to stories as people called into the radio station. We heard about stop lights not working, electricity out for a lot of people, a few fires around town, reports of the damage done to the schools, gas leaks, water being shut off, and the list goes on. I also kept a close eye on Facebook to see what was happening and make sure people were okay. The news on the TV was also on as they gave us updates on road conditions, dismissed false claims that an even bigger earthquake was going to happen that afternoon, and told us how to prepare for the aftershocks.
We filled up jugs of water in case a water pipe broke or the city shut off our water. Craig went down into our crawl space to check for water leaks or the smell of gas. Craig also checked on our elderly neighbors and drove to check on another elderly friend. During this whole time, the aftershocks kept happening–sometimes every 15 minutes, sometimes a couple hours would go by before we felt another one.
After getting our house cleaned up, Craig, Cullen, and I went to Skinny Raven to help clean up. Luckily the store off Dimond Blvd fared okay. A lot of shoe boxes fell off the shelves, but that was about it. I have always been thankful there was nothing fragile in those boxes.
All day long I could tell my anxiety levels were elevated–and I’m not even an anxious person! I barely had any appetite, and I didn’t even change out of my running clothes from that morning. I was too focused on cleaning up and preparing for anything else that might happen.
Friday night Craig went over to his dad’s to play a game, but as I was putting Cullen to bed, we had a couple bigger aftershocks, and by this time I was tired of my heart starting to race again every time the ground jolted again. I have never call Craig to come home, but I did that night. I didn’t want to be alone any more!
The three of us finally got to bed at 11:00 p.m. Cullen slept in bed with us because he was a little scared, and I felt better knowing he was right beside me. I had the hardest time falling asleep though because every time I started to doze off, another aftershock would occur. I swear there was one every 10 or 15 minutes between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. I also slept very intermittently also because there was a toddler flailing his arms all night. And to top it off, my nose was incredibly stuffy, so I basically didn’t feel like I had slept when I got up at 5:45 a.m. to run.
The aftershocks continued all weekend and into the beginning of the week with our latest one happening Wednesday evening. The schools are closed all week with a couple even reporting they won’t be able to reopen this school year at all. When we have been laying in bed at night or in the morning–and the world is still quiet, Craig said he can hear the aftershocks coming off in the distance. I’m sure they will continue through the week, and so far I think we’ve felt about 50 or 60 aftershocks.
The last big earthquake I went through, which was a 7.1 earthquake in January of 2016. Craig, Cullen, and I were staying in a hotel just north of Seward after a friend’s wedding. We had the hardest time getting Cullen to go to sleep that night, so at midnight we got in the car and drove until he fell asleep. Then at 1:30 a.m. the shaking started. It woke Craig and I up from a dead sleep. We froze, looked at each other, and wondered how long it was going to last. Cullen continued sleeping, and Craig instinctually tried to cover him with his body. We looked at each other–trying to assess how long it was going to last and whether we should go somewhere else. We ended up staying in bed, and it subsided pretty quickly, but it was enough of a shaker to make it memorable. This earthquake occurred about 120 miles from where we were staying and about 160 miles from Anchorage, so it was much farther away. When we got back to our house, there were only a few things that fell over but nothing broke.
The two big reasons the recent November earthquake was felt so much was because the epicenter was only 10 miles north of Anchorage and only 27 miles deep, which sounds deep but for an earthquake it is not. It lasted less than 40 seconds, but there is a lot of damage that can be done in a short period of time.
Prior to these two earthquakes, the last “big one” that everyone references here in Alaska was the ’64 earthquake. It was a magnitude 9.2, which is the largest earthquake recorded in US history. It lasted for 4.5 minutes! Can you even imagine? Our most recent earthquake was about 40 seconds long, and it felt like the longest 40 seconds of my life. Since the rating system for the Richtor Scale grows exponentially, a 9.2 earthquake is about 100 times bigger and about 1000 times stronger than a 7.0 earthquake. And to last 4.5 minutes on top of that! My mother-in-law was 3.5 years old when it happened, and she remembers it and still talks about it to this day.
The thing I don’t like about earthquakes is that you can’t predict them. You can predict a hurricane, tornadoes, tsunamis, and forest fires, but earthquakes are unpredictable. Luckily the buildings here in Anchorage are built knowing that we get a lot of earthquakes, so generally there’s little to no damage. (Whereas a 7.0 earthquake would cause significant destruction and several casualties in a third-world country.) I am so thankful we had minimal damage, and there were no casualties and only a couple reports of minor injures. And now the aftershocks can stop!