Quake rattles Homer, breaks bottles, plates; no major damage

A 7.1 magnitude earthquake at 1:30 a.m. Sunday started with a short, sharp shock and kept rolling for about 30 seconds, rattling buildings, sending pottery and bottles flying, and scaring the heck out of lower Kenai Peninsula residents.

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

The Jan. 24 quake is the largest quake within 155 miles of its epicenter since 1965.

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 was people evacuated the Spit as a precaution.

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

Fat Olives Restaurant on Ohlson Lane 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 and building on Clover Lane 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 end. The house is uninhabitable.

The new natural gas system in Anchor Point and Homer survived the quake, with 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.

The quake’s epicenter was in Iniskin Bay on the east side of Cook Inlet just north of Augustine Volcano and about 75 miles east of Homer along the Pacific: North America subduction zone plate boundary, and it’s the largest quake since 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 on the surface. Within 155 miles of Sunday’s quake there have been 17 earthquakes magnitude 6 and greater, with the largest a 7.0 quake in July 1965.

Not everyone who went through Sunday’s quake was in bed. When the earthquake shook Homer, The Alibi bar on East Pioneer Avenue had a full house and for a moment it seemed like the dancing just got extra rowdy. After a few seconds, the dancing stopped. People looked at one another and asked the obvious, “Is there an earthquake?” The biggest surprise was how long the shaking lasted. No one ducked for doorframes or under tables. Aside from the quaking building, everything else was normal. No bottles fell from the suspended shelves around the bars, no glasses dropped. It almost seemed as if the bar was on an amusement park ride for the lack of danger most of the patrons felt.

From the reaction after the earthquake finished, it seemed like some didn’t even notice that it had happened at all. The dancing and drinking continued, and most did not notice owner Nelton Palma going outside to check the foundation for damage. None was found though, so business continued as usual. One Alibi patron even apologized to his friends later in the morning — he thought they were playing a prank on him when they mentioned the earthquake. He hadn’t even noticed it happening around him.

The East End Grog Shop was not as lucky. Several liquor and wine bottles and cases of beer broke, leaving the air thick with the aroma of alcohol. A $300 bottle of Cristal champagne survived a fall, but a lot of lesser brands crashed and shattered. Single bottles of Grahams Six Grapes Porto, Grey Goose vodka, Stoli vanilla vodka, Mt. Gay rum, Kettle One vodka, Knob Creek rye whiskey and Korbes brandy were among the 28 bottles smashed by the earthquake. The walk-in sustained the most damage, with all the beer on the bottom of the stacks crushed, and several broken bottles on the floor, coating the space with a layer of beer and glass.

Grog Shop owner Mel Strydom said he had about $1,000 in damages at his stores, the Grog Shop, the Grop Shop East on East End Road, and the Rum Locker on Ohlson Lane.

“They didn’t tumble over. They danced over,” he said.

A row of high-end single malt Scotch whisky on the top shelf survived thanks to a strand of wire holding the bottles in place.

There was no damage to his buildings, Strydom said.

“Nobody got hurt. Everything’s working,” Strydom said.

On Sunday morning, the Pioneer Avenue Grog Shop still smelled of spilled liquor.

“We had to mop the store twice to get all the goo up,” Strydom said.

A woman came into the East End Grog Shop to purchase beer and cider and mentioned that while her structure wasn’t damaged, several things inside her house had broken.

“Well,” she said, “At least my place is earthquake proof now. There’s nothing left to break.”

Nolan said he noticed a curious effect at Fat Olives with broken plates and glasses. Tthere seemed to be a line of damage going through the restaurant, he said.

“You know how you see a tornado go through a town and things on the right are OK, things on the left aren’t? That’s how it was in the restaurant,” Nolan said.

Nolan said he and Lisa went to Fat Olives to turn off alarms and check on damage. There were lots of people out and about in town as other business owners checked buildings. He said he saw Homer Police Officers on patrol and checking, too.

“It was great to see the Homer Police wondering what you’re doing and are you OK?” Nolan said.

Alice’s Champagne Palace on Pioneer Avenue lost about two kegs of beer when several taps opened during the earthquake, said manager Josh Tobin.

“I guess the vibration shook the tap handle enough they opened,” he said.

AJ’s Old Town Steakhouse and Tavern also had minor damage from broken bottles, said owner Adrienne Sweeney. Sweeney also owns the Driftwood Inn and several guest houses, all fully occupied with events like the Besh Cup ski race.

“I had to get with the guest and make sure everybody was OK,” she said. “Everybody was fine.”

Sweeney said her father, Steve Walli, went through the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake and said this was the biggest once he went through since then.

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

The Homer Bookstore had some book displays knocked over, but did not have any visible damage.

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. Homer’s tsunami warning sirens did not go off.

“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.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com. Anna Frost can be reached at anna.frost@homernews.com.