Nothing we can’t handle . . .
It has been one month since I experienced an extremely large shake. I wrote about my experience (shared below), as I’m sure many of you have had experiences whether they are earthquakes, floods, hurricane, fire, or tornadoes. While the aftershocks continue (just had a 5.0 tonight), I wait to see how long the tremor lasts, and before I know it, the shaking has stopped. Mother Nature lets us know to be prepared.
Friday morning, November 30 at 8:30am, a 7.2 earthquake struck Alaska. The epicenter was about 20 miles away from my school. The day started like any other day with my typical arrival to school at 8:20ish. I happened to walk in with one of my students who participates in the yearbook club this morning. After walking up the stairs, I let him know I’d see him in a bit for class. As I continue preparing myself for the day, booting up the computer, turning on lamps, putting my lunch away, and filling my water bottle, my school began to shake. I could immediately tell this was not the “typical” shaker. It started with a jolt, lights flickered and went out, and 4 seconds later the building began shaking violently.
I am sooo thankful I was sitting at my desk, as I quickly got under it and held on. My phone was still sitting on top of my desk, but I knew I couldn’t get it. The lights were out. In Alaska, we are losing daylight, so my room was dark AND the shaking continued. After a quick few seconds the emergency lights came on . . . and the shaking continued. Then water began falling down. I thought, “The sprinkler system is going off”, as I began swishing water away. There was a thud. My phone fell off my desk onto the floor. I quickly grabbed my phone. Water still pouring down . . . the shaking still going on . . . I hear items falling from various places around me and in my classroom. I was praying that this would stop. After almost 2 minutes, it did . . . the shaking stopped.
The building was standing, emergency lights were on, and I was alive. When I crawled out from under my desk, I looked at my desk expecting to see it soaked, and realized my water bottle had toppled over on my desk. I didn’t have a chance to secure the lid before the earth shook. But at this point, I didn’t care about my soaked lesson plan book, notes, or anything else on my desk. I looked into the hall and my colleagues began running down the stairs outside my classroom.
I knew this was a huge earthquake and we had to get together downstairs. It wouldn’t be long before an aftershock would hit. I grabbed my coat, water bottle, and with phone in hand, headed down the stairs. Once we got together and assessed the building was still standing, we began to pass out walkie talkies and get the students we did have at school (yearbook club) with staff members. Then an aftershock – a 5.7 aftershock came. OMG! We need to get out. With two of my students by my side, we headed to my car.
Now I have lived in Alaska since 1993, but all earthquakes I have experienced have been in the 3 and 4 range, maybe a 5, but nothing like what I had just experienced. Once we got to my car, one student was crying and asking me to take her home. The other student sat and didn’t say a word. I wasn’t sure if she was in a state of shock or not.
Of course, my family was scattered throughout the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and Anchorage. Suddenly, my phone began beeping like an alarm . . . another earthquake . . . a tsunami alert. My husband (in Anchorage) and daughter (teaching at Big Lake Elementary) were near Cook Inlet. I know what happened in the 9.2 earthquake of 1964. I tried to contact them and the phone call wouldn’t go through. The phone lines were not working or jammed with calls. Fortunately, my youngest son put a group text together for all of us to check in. I found out the airport where my husband was working was being evacuated and my daughter’s school was about 3 miles from the epicenter. Everyone began checking in.
After getting some news about my family, while still experiencing aftershocks, I tried to call the parents of my two students. Again, I couldn’t get through on the phone line, but a text was able to get to them. My students were able to connect with their parents and let them know they were safe. The important thing was that we were all safe.
After talking with staff, getting notifications for more aftershocks and the tsunami alert, I started to get a handle on this situation . . . my emotions.
Forty-five minutes after the initial quake, three school buses arrived with students. At this point, the building seemed to be a safe place to be, since the maintenance crew did an assessment and found no gas leaks or big structural damages. We all entered into the building, got our students from the bus and sat against the wall, ready for another aftershock. We began contacting parents to pick up their child IF they were able to do this. We began hearing reports of bridges that collapsed, roads broken into large chunks, the one four lane highway that connects the Valley to Anchorage was missing some lanes, roads splitting open, and cars falling into crevices where the land gave way.
I couldn’t believe this was happening. With all this going on, our school staff was able to remain calm, make certain students were calm, passed out water bottles, passed out breakfast, and waited for students to go home while keeping track of updates in our area and family members. Still . . . aftershocks continued. By this time the tsunami warning was cancelled. Thank God!
After two hours, most students were with parents and staff could begin going home. Before heading home, the librarian wanted to check out the damage in the library, so we went up to our rooms – buddy system. I quickly took some snapshots, turned off two lamps, and a Scentsy warmer. Then . . . the rumble came and the building began to shake . . . another aftershock. I quickly turned off two more lamps, and my friend and I were out of our rooms . . . heading downstairs.
Knowing that I didn’t have to stay, I needed to get home and be with my family. When I arrived home, two of my adult children were there. The house was in shambles . . . glass broken, pictures down from the walls, dressers turned over, walk in closets an absolute disaster, cracks in the wall . . . BUT the house was still standing, the generator came on to supply power, we were safe, and, except my husband and one son, we were together.
While we were getting our emergency items together, aftershocks continued. We have always talked about being prepared, but were only partially prepared. We knew another aftershock would happen, but didn’t know they would be soooo frequent. Using the QuakeFeed app, we could keep track of where the earthquakes hit and the intensity. Hearing reports of main road closures due to missing lanes, I didn’t know how my husband would make it home. There is literally one main highway connecting the Valley to Anchorage. There were two areas that had missing lanes, on/off ramps collapsed, and a bridge that was unsafe to drive on. Well . . . I’m not sure if a 4 hour ride home is quick (compared to 1 hour and 10 min), but I was thankful my husband was able to get home. Fortunately, the Department of Transportation was able to reroute traffic by providing an alternate lane crossing on to the inbound side, so outbound traffic could get out quicker.
All stores in the area were closed; however, several stores were passing out water cases to families that stopped by, while workers tried to get the store opened as fast as they could. By 3:45, one store was able to open for the community.
That night I didn’t sleep a wink. Honestly, I don’t know that anyone did. With aftershocks occurring every 5 – 15 minutes, we didn’t know if a larger quake would happen again. It felt as if the house was in a constant tremor.
The next day brought more damage assessment and cleaning up at home. The quakes were beginning to lessen in intensity, but they were still very frequent. I was certainly on “edge”, as most people were. We also began hearing more reports and seeing video footage about damage around the community. The DOT requested drivers to stay off the roads, to allow equipment and crews time to repair the roads, ramps, and bridges.
Middle and high schools were in session during the quake. All schools had damage, some more severe than others. By Saturday, the announcement was that schools would be closed through Tuesday depending upon further structural assessments.