Well, it has been just over a week since Alaska decided to give us quite a shake. On November 30, we experienced a 7.0 earthquake. As you can imagine, Nick and I have become a bit obsessed about earthquakes, so we have learned that there are a variety of things that can make an earthquake more or less severe including how close and how deep an earthquake is when it happens. Our earthquake was very close, 7 miles across the Knik Arm, but fairly deep, 25 miles. It also lasted around 1 minute compared to Alaska’s big quake of 1964 which was over 4 minutes. So, things had started to liquify, hence the broken roads, but not like it would have it had kept shaking. Even though this happened near our most populated area in Alaska, there were no fatalities, barely any notable injuries, and the damage could have been worse. Why? Well, probably a variety of things led to this including emergency preparedness and building standards. My 4-year old son had a better grip on how to handle an earthquake than most adults not living in an earthquake zone. These are skills that are drilled into our kids from a very early age. Nick and I watched countless videos of kids at school and families at home immediately finding a safe spot to ride out the shaking. As Andy reminded me, duck, cover, and HANG ON!
If you do a quick Google search about our earthquake, you will find countless stories and now infamous photos. Here is the Smith story to add to the collection. Andy and I were at home having breakfast and getting ready to head to the pool when the earthquake hit at 8:29 am. Ellie was still in bed as she is our night owl and hates being up much before 9. I was looking in our pantry for snacks to take with us when the shaking began. Now, we know earthquakes in Alaska and frequently feel slight tremors, so I waited for a moment to see if it would pass. It became obvious that it was not stopping and I saw Andy’s eyes getting wide as he sat at the table. I took him into the doorway of our main floor bathroom and watched our two hanging lights over the table and the front door swing so hard and high that they were hitting the ceiling. Items started shaking off the mantle and the piano. It was loud. The earth and a house shaking is really, really loud. This is when I realized that this was probably not one of our typical earthquakes. Now, a minute may not seem like a long time, but it does during an earthquake.
When the first shake subsided, Andy and I rushed downstairs to make sure Ellie was okay. I was physically shaking at this point and Andy was near tears. When we got to Ellie, she was still sound asleep and didn’t wake up until we had switched on the lights and the first major aftershock hit at 8:35 – there are varying reports of what this one was, but it was close to a 6.0 and felt extra strong after just experiencing the first earthquake. Andy and I snuggled during the aftershock and then assessed the damage. We really had very little damage to our house – some things had fallen off the shelves, but we still had power, and I thought maybe my physical reaction was an overreaction. I called Nick. He is usually the strong, stoic type, so I was a little shocked to hear his voice filled with adrenaline and a bit of anxiety. He immediately told me to check for gas leaks and water leaks and reminded me how to turn off both if necessary. Everything seemed okay.
Now, we all have our own stories to tell about what happened during the earthquake, but I am going to take the liberty of telling Nick’s story. He was on the toilet. He said he had just finished when the pot started shaking. He soon realized that he shouldn’t ride this one out and quickly pulled up his pants and braced himself in the doorway. This earthquake experience has been traumatic and scary for many, but thankfully Nick’s story has brought about many a giggle. I keep telling him he’s gotta shit or get off the pot! Hahahaha.
I started getting endless phone calls and texts checking on my safety, asking about power, and other issues. As this continued, I started to understand that others in my community had not been as lucky and had lost power, most of their dishes, glasses, etc. Within an hour, we started getting alerts from our local newspaper and from Facebook of what our city was facing. Many homes were without power and some roads had sustained big damage.
Anchorage declared a state of emergency and we were told to stay inside and off the roads. Of course this was nearly impossible for most as they tried to pick up kids from school, day care, and to make their way home to assess damage. Nick’s work building was declared unsafe and so he started to make his way home and finally made it around 10:30. I was relieved to have our family unit secure at home. Nick spent time assessing the damage on our house as well as our neighbor’s home. We checked in on our friends and then we hung out. Luckily we had power, so we watched movies, checked social media frequently, and felt extra jittery each time the earth shook. There were too many aftershocks after the initial quake. Hundreds within the first couple of days, now we are in the thousands. Many measuring over 4.0 and 5.0. As you can imagine, on top of frayed nerves, we all were a little jumpy. Andy kept diving under the table and eventually took his blankets and hung out under there for awhile.
By Friday afternoon, we were stir crazy, so we headed outside. We went to our neighborhood sledding hill and socialized with our neighbors. I have heard numerous stories since the quake of people being kind and neighborly to each other. I think in tragedy when we can see these bright spots, it is always helpful. We chatted with other parents who also had kiddos with pent up energy about their experiences, damage, and how to stay safe. We gave hugs, learned names, and were a community that I don’t normally see in Anchorage. Friday night was a tough one riddled with numerous aftershocks that had us waking up almost every hour. But, in true tough Alaska style, there were funny memes to document the event.
On Saturday, we really felt we needed to get Andy back into a routine and all of us needed to see that our city was okay. So, we continued our day as normal heading to hockey for Andy and seeing friends. We even had an earthquake survival party on Saturday night at a friend’s house where we heard more stories, looked at pictures, and experienced several aftershocks together. We laughed about drinking games associated with aftershocks and started to feel more normal.
Nick was home from work until Wednesday because half of his building had sunk 11 inches. The school district cancelled school all last week in order to assess the damage of the buildings. It was an emotional week for me as I heard about people who pushed through the damages facing their families and we learned of schools that had too much damage to reopen as well as the overwhelming mess that faced many. It has continued to help many to tell their stories, but I will readily admit that when the 5.0 earthquake shook us on Sunday morning, I felt much more fear and anxiety than I have ever felt about earthquakes in the past. I run scenarios through my head of what I would do if an earthquake struck again while I am at home, in the car, at the gym, etc. I hope that these feelings eventually pass, but in the meantime, I will continue to cling to the sense of community and hope that I have seen in Anchorage the past several days.
Here is a link to the Anchorage Daily News with an archive of the stories they have run since the earthquake if you are interested in reading stories about others in our community. https://www.adn.com/tag/11-30-18-alaska-earthquake/