Homer residents got a rough wake up call Friday morning in the form of a 7 magnitude earthquake that rattled the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage, and surrounding areas.
Some Homerites, however, got a slightly more nasty shock as they traveled through Anchorage Friday morning.
A tsunami warning was initially activated for the Cook Inlet area and Southern Kenai Peninsula, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but it was lifted just a few hours after the initial shock.
Tom Sulczynski, an IT analyst with the City of Homer, and Bekah Taylor, who works at the Rum Locker, were in a car on the way to the Ted Stevens International Airport when the quake struck. Sulczynski was driving on the off ramp leading from Minnesota Drive to Walter J. Hickel Parkway.
“I thought I either had a flat tire…,” he said. “Then I realized, no, the way the car was driving, it didn’t feel like a flat tire. I thought it was maybe a broken axle. So I was kind of trying to get around cars to pull over, and then I saw, you know, the road kind of breaking up around me, so I realized it was an earthquake.”
Taylor, Sulczynski’s passenger, said they knew it wasn’t a flat tire when they saw other cars stopping on the off ramp.
“We’re slowing down because we thought that something was wrong with the car,” Taylor said. “And then finally we got ahead a little bit and basically we started seeing like the side of the road, like it was collapsing — the side of the road that we were on. And you could see it getting deeper and deeper.”
“I turned around and looked out back and you could see all the chunky pieces of the road that we had just driven on, like, two seconds before,” she continued. “And then we just stopped, and that’s where the car is right now.”
The pair are flying to Seattle to take care of some business with a storage unit Taylor has there, and then on to California for a short vacation to visit Sulczynski’s family. They had to abandon the vehicle on the road after climbing to a safe spot.
“There’s a slab that was in front of the car that kind of was leaning from, like, the side that we were on … and so we just kind of climbed over that to get out of there,” Sulczynski said.
Sulczynski said emergency services showed up about 20 minutes after the quake.
“They didn’t really do much except take a statement and get all our information,” he said. “There’s really not much they could do. My car is still there. It’s stuck and I haven’t really figured out where to go from here to get it out of there.”
Sulczynski said a passerby offered them a ride on to the airport. He hasn’t been able to get confirmation from the Anchorage Police or local towing companies that his vehicle will be removed from the road.
“I have OnStar … as part of my, like, package with the car, and their response was, …’we don’t do earthquake recovery,’” Sulczynski said. “I called my insurance company and they basically just gave me phone numbers for … towing companies in town, you know in Anchorage. They weren’t really wanting to do anything either. It’s kind of frustrating.”
He said he and Taylor will continue on with their planned trip and attempt to recover the car remotely. Most of the flights are delayed, Sulczynski said.
“It’s pretty chill,” Taylor said of the scene at the airport. “When we first got here there was like a water line (that) broke by the Starbucks over at Alaska Airlines, and it was just like raining inside the building, and they were mopping it up.”
Another Homer resident, Seth Spencer, is also at the airport awaiting a flight back to Homer. Spencer, education program coordinator for the Center for Alaska Coastal Studies, was in Anchorage for the Alaska After School Conference with fellow educator Henry Rieske, were staying at the Sheraton Hotel, where the conference was being held.
At the time of the tremblor, however, Spencer said they were in a café across the street. He said power went out almost immediately after the earthquake began.
“Thing were falling off the walls,” he said. “Most of us went under tables.”
Someone shouted for everyone to get out, so Spencer and Rieske exited the café. Spencer said there was water damage to the hotel, where pipes had burst, causing ceiling tiles to fall down.
Spencer and Rieske got a Lyft to the airport, where they were already scheduled to fly back to Homer this evening. They tried to get an earlier flight, but Spencer said they’ve all been canceled.
“We were both supposed to present today at the conference,” Spencer said.
Once they realized the power was out and the conference was canceled, Spencer said he and Rieske decided there was no reason to stick around. Coincidentally, he said members of NOAA were also in attendance at the conference, and were able to let everyone know they were safe from a tsunami at their location.
“I think overall it sounds like nobody really got injured hopefully,” Spencer said.
At 2:10 p.m., Grog Shop owner Mel Strydom reported no damage at the Pioneer Avenue liquor store as well as the Rum Locker and Grog Shop East stores. He was more worried about being able to get supplies coming down from Anchorage on the Seward and Sterling Highways that had been damaged in the quake.
“We’re all good,” Strydom said. “It’s going to impact us because our suppliers come out of Anchorage. They’ll be down for awhile. I’m assuming the road will be open soon.”
At 2:05 p.m., the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities issued this notice that the following roads are passable and do not have earthquake damage:
• Alaska Highway, Richardson Highway, Parks Highway MP 98-345 (Inspections still ongoing south of MP 98),
• Tok Cutoff, Glenn Highway MP 118-189 (Inspections still ongoing south of MP 118).
• Parks Highway MP 0-98
For the Seward, Sterling, and portions of the Glenn Highway in and out of Anchorage, updates are being posted on 511 as they get information.
As of 1:15 p.m., South Peninsula Hospital reported no injuries or no damage from the quake. The hospital went to Hospital Incident Command System, or HICS, Level 1 right after the quake, and looked for possible damage. After the tsunami alert it went to HICS 2, said SPH Spokesperson Derotha Ferraro.
At HICS 2 hospital department heads assess staff levels and resources in anticipation of a possible emergency. When the tsunami alert was canceled at about 10:05 a.m., the hospital canceled the alert.
SPH staff also participated in a statewide conference with other hospitals, Ferraro said.
“Part of it is simply reporting out, reporting the impact to your community,” she said. “More important it is to assess available resources.”
SPH officials had done an earlier conference and report with Central Peninsula Hospital. The hospital also sent a staff member to the city Incident Command at the Homer Volunteer Fire Department fire hall and received periodic updates, Ferraro said.
During the statewide conference, Anchorage hospitals reported no surge in need.
“That was a relief to the state that hospitals weren’t in trouble as far as capacity goes,” Ferraro said.
Some Anchorage hospitals reported issues with water supply from pipes breaking, but staffing and beds are fine, she said. Hospitals in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley have plenty of bed capacity if Anchorage has a need.
As part of planned emergency training, the hospital will hold internal training next week and area-wide training next Saturday.
“Any lessons learned today we get to practice next week,” Ferraro said.
As of 12:15 p.m., the Homer Harbor reports no damage. Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins said staff at the office evacuated shortly after the initial quake.
“We did just fine,” Hawkins said. “…We started making preps to get out. Common sense says when the ground shakes that hard you should head for high ground. … The sirens hadn’t sounded yet, but we had lots of company as we were leaving.”
After the all-clear and tsunami warning was canceled, harbor crews returned to assess damage. Hawkins said he and other officers did a quick assessment and did not see any obvious damage. He recommended that mariners check boats and lines.
Ice on Beluga Lake that is 6 inches thick had long cracks running roughly parallel to the shore.
Michael Burgy with the Tsunami Warning Center said the quake had potential to generate tsunami waves, but they never materialized.
“We confirmed that this earthquake did not generate a tsunami and we confirmed that tsunamis were not generated by landslides or underwater slumping that the earthquake could have caused,” he told KBBI public radio.
The City of Homer has reported no damage has been reported, but the Homer Police Department’s phone lines are down and the city and GCI are working to fix the problem. The 911 emergency system is still working, KBBI reports.
Kenai Peninsula Emergency Department Manager Dan Nelson said some minor damage to borough roads has been reported on the central peninsula.
“We have some reports from the Nikiski area of some cracks along some of the state roads on the Kenai Spur Highway, and we’re currently assessing all of our borough roads and the state is assessing their state roads for damage as well,” Nelson told KBBI. “However, we don’t have any borough roads completely closed at this time. Other than that, we have had some incidental reports of damage to things like appliances and homes and other things.
There are reports of serious damage to highways and infrastructure in and around Anchorage. The Alaska Department of Transportation said the Seward Highway is closed at mile marker 112 due to a rockslide.
As of 11:30 a.m., the Department of Transportation has issued the following road updates:
Kenai Spur Highway—Passable with care. Damage at Milepost 19 and MP 35. Cracks in roadway.
Seward Highway—Closed at MP 112 due to rock slide.
Glenn Highway—Major damage at Eagle River. Highway is closed, but detour through Eagle River is possible.
Parks/Glenn Interchange—Major damage, but still appears to be open.
Richardson Highway—Minor rockslide, but otherwise passable at this time.
Also, because of power outages and poor cell-phone coverage, the 511 road weather cameras are no longer updating.
UPDATE: As of 10:15 a.m., the tsunami warning for Homer has been canceled.
The Homer Volunteer Fire Department reports that roads and bridges between Homer and Anchor point are clear.
Homer High School reports that it is returning to its normal schedule. However, all after-school events and sports are canceled. All students were sent back to their respective schools once the tsunami warning was lifted.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District reports that all afternoon classes for Title 1, preschool and special education preschool are cancelled for Friday.
The borough’s Office of Emergency Management has switched from emergency response to “conducting damage assessments” on all public buildings, according to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Facebook page. This includes schools, hospitals, fire stations and borough buildings, as well as roads.
“At initial assessment, there is no imminent danger to life safety,” the borough reports. “Minor damages to roads are being reported but are passable, use caution and adhere to road signs.”
The borough is also in contact with both Homer and Seward to provide support if needed.
Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage residents got a strong wake up call Friday, in the form of a 7.0 magnitude earthquake.
The US Geological Survey is reporting the tremblor hit 13 kilometers north of Anchorage at about 8:30 a.m. this morning with a depth of about 41 kilometers.
According to the USGS, the Pacific plate subducted under the North America plate beneath Alaska, “at the Alaska-Aleutians Trench, approximately 150 km south-southeast of this event.”
“The location and mechanism of this earthquake indicate rupture occurred on an intraslab fault within the subducting Pacific slab, rather than on the shallower thrust-faulting interface between these two plates,” the USGS reports.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there is a tsunami warning in effect for the Cook Inlet area and the Southern Kenai Peninsula. Homer’s tsunami siren has been activated and evacuation protocol is in progress. The first wave is expected at 11:45 a.m., according to NOAA.
Residents are advised to move to higher ground, above Pioneer Avenue. The Homer High School has been opened as a shelter, according to the Homer Police. South Peninsula Hospital is not a shelter. The Homer Volunteer Fire Department posted to its Facebook page that the Glacierview Baptist Church on Pioneer Avenue has also been opened as a shelter.
Power loss and damage to roads has been reported in Anchorage. Homer Electric Associated reports several power outages, with the largest one “affecting 42 members in the Candlelight Drive area in Kenai.”
A tsunami warning is also in effect for Seward. Schools in the communities with tsunami warnings are being evacuated to higher ground, said Pegge Erkeneff, public information officer for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. In Homer, students from Fireweed Academy, Homer Flex School, Homer Middle School, Paul Banks Elementary School and West Homer Elementary School have all been taken to the high school.
Students in Seward have been evacuated to the Seward High School.
Erkeneff said the school district has confirmed that all its students are safe. She said there have been reports of road damage on the central peninsula, and so the school district is asking that parents not drive to the schools where their children are at this time for safety reasons.
All evacuation routes should be kept clear for emergency responders.
This is a developing story. Updates will be posted as more information becomes available. KBBI Public Radio contributed to this report.