Big quake causes very little damage

The lower Kenai Peninsula continued cleaning up this week and reassessing disaster plans after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake at 1:30 a.m. Sunday rattled buildings, cracked ice on ponds and lakes, sent pottery and bottles flying, and scared the heck out of a lot of Alaskans. 

Except for a lot of broken items, Homer and Anchor Point had no reports of injuries or major building damage.

According to U.S. Geological Survey, the Jan. 24 Iniskin Quake, named after its epicenter in Iniskin Bay on the east side of Cook Inlet, is the largest recorded quake within 155 miles of its epicenter since 1965.

Most described the Iniskin Quake as several short, sharp shocks and steady rumbling that went on for from 30 seconds to a minute.

“I kept telling myself, ‘It’s going to be over. It’s going to be over,’” said Josephine Rice, 62, of Anchor Point, a survivor of the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake.

The quake struck deep but hard, 80 miles down. Because of its depth the Alaska Tsunami Warning Center also did not issue a tsunami warning. However, Homer Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins said the Homer Spit had a steady stream of traffic as people evacuated the Spit as a precaution.

While the quake didn’t cause a tsunami, it did crack ice on local lakes and ponds. At Caribou Lake, cracks opened up around the perimeter of the lake where the ice had frozen to the shallow bottom. Some cracks had mud in them, said John Chapple III, 67, who rode out the quake with his wife Peggy at their Caribou Lake cabin.

“It actually spit stuff up from the bottom,” he said. “There were pieces of wood and grass.”

The only report of infrastructure damage came from a homeowner on Early Spring Street when a service line broke loose from a main water line right after the quake.

Public Works Director Carey Meyer said meters at the water treatment plant indicated a sudden demand of 150 gallons a minute right after the quake, indicating a break somewhere in the system. Public Works found and fixed the break on Monday when the homeowner reported the leak.

“It was nothing really major — kind of a routine thing,” Meyer said. “I’m happy that based on how much shaking went on we didn’t have other problems.”

Homer Police responded to numerous security alarms going off and did some welfare checks for Lower 48 families concerned about relatives in Homer, but otherwise had no issues, said Homer Police Chief Mark Robl. Police checked to make sure buildings were secure.

“All in all, people stayed calm. It was just a big earthquake and nothing more,” Robl said.

Fat Olives Restaurant on Ohlson Lane had damage typical of what most experienced: broken plates and dishes.

“It wasn’t catastrophic, but it was definitely something,” said Tiny Nolan, owner with his wife Lisa of Fat Olives Restaurant.

Fat Olives Restaurant lost plates and wine glasses, and one bottle of wine. Some bottles also broke at the Fat Olives Espresso Shop in the same building, a 1950s concrete building that had once been a bus barn.

A trailer on Clover Lane off East End Road caught fire about 5:30 a.m., but Homer Volunteer Fire Department officials don’t know if the cause was related to the earthquake. No one was home at the time. The house was a total loss, said Homer Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bob Painter. Painter said it would be difficult to determine if the quake caused the fire. 

The quake expanded a horizontal crack over a garage door at the HVFD fire hall, Painter said. The crack appeared to be in stucco. 

HVFD had no reports of natural gas leaks.

Painter rode out the quake at an Anchorage hotel. He said his hotel lost power. When he got back to work on Monday, Painter said he expected to see lots of calls on his voice mail, but there was nothing related to the quake, he said.

The new natural gas system in Anchor Point and Homer survived the quake, with Enstar also receiving no reports of leaks or ruptures, said spokesperson John Sims of Enstar Natural Gas.

Four houses burned on Lilac Lane in Kenai, with two a total loss. The quake caused gas explosions in the area. Gas was shut off in the area and about 20 people in the area were evacuated to shelter at the Kenai National Guard Armory.

“We’ll be doing our best with our resources to respond to calls from people smelling gas, and then reviewing the rest,” Sims said. “But so far there’s nothing in the Homer system — that’s one of the benefits of having a new system.”

The quake also caused a 150-foot crack in the northbound lane of Kalifornsky Beach Road in the central peninsula. There have been no reports of road damage on the lower peninsula.

South Peninsula Hospital had superficial damage from falling items and a few cracks in drywall, said hospital spokesperson Derotha Ferraro. No patient, staff or Long Term Care residents had injuries.

“The hospital staff participates in the annual Great Alaska
Shake Out each fall which encourages ‘Drop, Cover and Hold On’ as the best
response,” Ferraro said.

People at the hospital used that response in some areas of the hospital during the quake, she said. The hospital did a post-event inspection on Monday and found no structural, plumbing, heating or electrical issues.

Painter seconded the “drop, cover and hold on” advice.

“Most injuries come from things that fall on people, cabinets that open, big TVs falling on people and bookshelves falling on them,” he said.

Some people in wheelchairs had concerns about getting to safety after the earthquake, said Joyana Geisler of the Independent Living Center. Some disabled people didn’t have personal care attendants at their houses at the time of the quake.

“They didn’t know how to get out of houses,” she said.

Rick Malley of the ILC said the quake has prompted people in the disability community to rethink safety plans. One option might be for neighbors or friends from church to be a contact for help in evacuating disabled people if needed, he said.

Painter suggested people with natural gas or propane stoves invest in a low-exposre limit detector, a device that detects low levels of methane, the gas found in natural gas and propane. Chemicals are added to gas and propane to give it a pungent odor like a skunk, but at low levels that might not be detected. Painter also suggested building owners check plumbing and connections, fuel lines, fuel tanks and electrical systems to make sure nothing was damaged. Hot-water tanks should also be strapped to walls.

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District buildings also fared well in the quake. On Sunday, school principals checked schools and staff worked with borough maintenance to inspect every borough school to make sure they were safe, said district commuications liasion Pegge Erkeneff. There was minimal damage and schools opened as usual on Monday.

“Our thoughts extend to families and staff who are affected by the earthquake. Student and staff safety are our number one priority,” she said.

The quake’s epicenter was in Iniskin Bay on the west side of Cook Inlet just north of Augustine Volcano and about 75 miles west of Homer. The quake was along the Pacific-North America subduction zone plate boundary. At a depth of about 80 miles, it’s what the U.S. Geological Survey calls an intermediate-depth quake. Such quakes cause less damage than those on the surface. Within 155 miles of Sunday’s quake there have been 17 quakes magnitude 6 and greater, with the largest a 7 quake in July 1965.

The Homer Safeway had no appreciable damage, said second assistant manager Wina Wade.

The Homer Bookstore had some book displays knocked over.

The Homer Harbor also had no damage. Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins said the harbor officer on duty called him right after the quake.

“I think we rode it out pretty well,” he said. “Things were moving around — poles shook and shimmied,” Hawkins said, referring to the high-mast lights at the harbor.

People on the Homer Spit began evacuating, even though there was no tsunami danger or alert, Hawkins said. 

“There was a steady stream of cars leaving the Spit. People got out. It’s probably a good idea — when in doubt, leave,” Hawkins said.

Robl said one critter slept right through it: his 6-year-old dog. The dog was in the garage under plywood on top of sawhorses. Tools and other items crashed around him.

“He didn’t even get up,” Robl said.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at Anna Frost can be reached at