Alaska residents try to return to normalcy after earthquake rocks region

Diane and Bill Kuhlmann were still on edge Sunday, days after riding out an earthquake in their home of 47 y...

Posted: Dec 3, 2018 8:52 AM
Updated: Dec 3, 2018 8:52 AM

Diane and Bill Kuhlmann were still on edge Sunday, days after riding out an earthquake in their home of 47 years.

"I didn't want to go to sleep last night. I was afraid it was gonna happen again," Diane said referring to the more than 1,000 aftershocks that have shaken Alaska since Friday's big quake.

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In 40 years of living in Alaska, the couple has lived through many earthquakes, Bill Kuhlmann said. But this one was different.

"This one was a shaker," he said. "It just shook the heck out of everything."

The couple now has the unfortunate task of cleaning up after everything in their home was tossed about, including irreplaceable antiques.

"We had to put some lights up to make it a little brighter and cheery in here. It makes it easier to work, otherwise you cry," Bill Kuhlmann said.

The 7.0-magnitude earthquake sent residents scurrying for cover when it hit at about 8:30 a.m. Friday. The quake was centered 10 miles northeast of Anchorage.

The majority of the aftershocks were of a magnitude 2.5 or weaker, meaning they weren't likely felt. But more than 350 of the aftershocks were higher than 2.5, according to US Geological Survey data.

"It is about two and a half days since the 7.0 earthquake came through Anchorage and it's astounding the kind of progress that's been made," said Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. "We've shown the rest of the country and the rest of the world that there's an Anchorage way of getting things done and we're going to continue to make progress."

Alaskans resilient to damage

No fatalities or serious injuries were reported, officials said. In Alaska's largest city -- with a population of about 300,000 -- airports, hospitals, emergency services and most businesses were operating.

"The power is up. The heat is on. The communication lines are opening," said Anchorage Municipal Manager Bill Falsey.

At this point, the city doesn't have any updates or reports on condemned municipal, commercial or residential buildings, Falsey said.

The earthquake was felt up to 400 miles away, said state seismologist Michael West. He called it the most significant earthquake in Anchorage since 1964.

"The most striking thing about this event was that it was so close to Anchorage," said Gavin Hayes, a research geophysicist with the USGS. "That's why it has caused the damage that we're seeing."

'The bottom line is that everything is working'

The Anchorage Water and Waste Water Utility on Sunday lifted the precautionary boil water advisory put in place Saturday, making water now safe to drink, Falsey said.

"The bottom line is that everything is working, we expect it to remain working. The water from your tap is safe for all uses," he said

He also said during a Sunday press conference that the city has gone through stages of recovery over the last three days.

The first day, he said, was mostly focused on assessing damages, arranging the necessary resources, prioritizing the restoration of utilities and sheltering for life and safety. The second day was a pivot to critical infrastructure and making sure the city could run efficiently. Day three is about returning to normalcy, Falsey said.

"I'm very happy to report that the day one and day two tasks are a success and largely complete. The electricity is on, the heat is on, communication lines are up, water and sewer are returning to their normal operating posture and we expect that to remain the case," he said.

Meanwhile, Falsey said, roads are generally passable.

Road crews are working 40 sites. One of the most damaged roads, Glenn Highway, also happens to be the most traveled road in Alaska and looked like a massive machine clawed through it on Saturday. By Sunday some progress had been made on the heavily traveled highway. The Alaska Department of Transportation requested state agencies keep employees at home because of the extensive damage on the highway.

Anchorage schools are expected to open to students December 10, Superintendent Deena Bishop told CNN affiliate KTUU.

A full assessment is being conducted on the division's 92 buildings -- 82 of which are schools. Each of the 4,000 classrooms are being assessed for safety precautions as well.

"We are doing full-scale assessments of water, heating, electricity as well as structural analysis with engineers," Bishop said.

While Anchorage may be getting over the earthquake, more weather is on the horizon.

Louise Fode with the National Weather Service said Sunday the city should expect 3 to 6 inches of snow overnight into Monday. As of Sunday evening, the city was seeing light rain, but Fode said that's expected to change to snow between 9 and 10 p.m. Sunday and then stop by morning rush hour Monday.

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