By late afternoon Friday, Costco Anchorage was welcoming shoppers with clean, bottled water in case they were worried about water contaminated by the morning’s earthquake/Craig Medred photo


The earthquake that rocked Anchorage Friday morning was felt by Mark Reed as it was felt by everyone else in the state’s largest city.  A 7.0 centered almost beneath your neighborhood is hard to miss.  But it didn’t change Reed’s day.


As the owner of a small, old-fashioned gas station and garage in South Anchorage, Reed had work to do, and since Reed’s Auto Service was still standing, he went to work.

It was a busy morning. A lot of Alaskans were getting extra fuel for generators or gassing up their cars and trucks as city officials warned them to prepare to “shelter in place.”

At one point, with other gas stations in the area shut down because of minor damage, Reed had customers lined up for more than a block. He himself was on the phone trying to figure out whether a scheduled delivery of fuel was going to make it.

It didn’t.

By about 3 p.m., he was out of gas and turning away those in search of fuel. But he was still doing business; there were people needing summer tires changed to winter studs for the snow-slippery roads and a young woman who limped her Subaru into the parking lot with a wheel bearing that was failing.

Reed confessed he’d been so busy since just after the quake struck that he hadn’t had a chance to catch up on the quake news. When he finally opened his computer and checked his news browser, he noted that five of the top six stories were about the Alaska shake.

He laughed about a couple of them.

Bloomberg news was headlining that the Alaska oil pipeline was threatened. Reed worked on that pipeline and knew it was designed to withstand at least an 8.0 and had in 2002 withstood the Denali Fault earthquake. 

That quake had a surface magnitude of 8.5, and it rocked an area far larger than the Friday trembler in the Anchorage metropolitan area.

A slip along fault lines more than 200 miles long, the Denali quake “was felt as far as Washington (state) and caused seiches in pools and lakes as far as Texas and Louisiana,” the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) later reported. “There were reports of triggered seismicity in volcanic and geothermal centers in Washington and California and regional seismicity in Utah.”

By way of comparison, the Anchorage quake was small and localized, and though after shocks rattled the state’s largest urban area through the day, Alaskans largely went about their business as if the day were like any other, only with a few extra chores to be done.

Costco seizes opportunity

With the Municipality of Anchorage warning it might be advisable to boil water because of possible breaks in city pipes that could contaminate drinking water with waste water, the south Anchorage Costco had cases upon cases of bottled water stacked up near the check out lines waiting for buyers.

Most shoppers appeared uninterested. There were more people trying out computers and cameras than loading cases of water. Christmas shopping seemed to be the main thing on the minds of the majority.

No one appeared to have read The New York Times which was reporting “Earthquake Shreds Highways and Sows Panic in South Central Alaska.” The panicked people must have been home hiding in their closets. 

Surely there were some panicked people in the Anchorage metro area, but Alaska is a place where people quickly learn to roll with Mother Nature’s punches, or they leave.

The state might be going through a tough patch with its economy still in a slump. And Alaskans these days might spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about collecting their permanent fund dividends (PFDs), which almost everyone in the state now considers their “fair share” of the oil wealth produced almost entirely by others.

But when times get tough, Alaskans – Native, Caucasian, African-American, Asian, half breeds (the school in the remote village of Aniak proudly claims that nickname for its sports teams), and all sorts of mixed breeds – still know how to labor on.

Nature remains a regular, northern adversary despite these modern times. The days are short this time of year; the nights long. There are windstorms and rainstorms and snowstorms and avalanches and rockslides and, of course, the earthquakes.

Alaska is still home to those who remember the Good Friday earthquake of 1964, the largest earthquake in North American history. It killed 114 people, flattened several communities, and destroyed good parts of Anchorage. 

“Strongest that I have felt since ’64,” lifelong Alaskan Eric Johnson said Friday, “but not even close in longevity. If I remember correctly we had multiple aftershocks that were as strong as this quake. It (the latest quake) did bust up the ice in the lakes pretty good.”

Johnson and his wife, Shan, run the Northwoods Lodge off the road system on the Yentna River north of Anchorage. Their world is all about self-sufficiency. They were picking up after the earthquake Friday.

“No structure damage,” Eric reported, “just lots of broken glass….The other observation about this one versus ’64 was the lack of the incredible roar that preceded the ’64 quake.”

His big hope was that Friday’s problematic shake wouldn’t trigger a deadly afterschock. Some geologists were worrying the collision of plates along a previously unknown fault line just north of Anchorage could alter the dynamics of the well-known Castle Mountain fault.

After the Denali Fault quake in 2002, USGS earthquake researcher Peter Haeussler observed that “it’s the only active fault that comes to the surface in Southcentral Alaska,” and told the Seattle Times newspaper that “I’d personally try to avoid living within six miles of this thing.”

Serious aftershock danger?

At a 1992 conference in Anchorage, Randall Updike from the USGS modeled the damage from a 7.1 quake along the Castle Mountain line, that “strike-slip fault, similar to California, similar to the San Andreas fault.”

If that happened, he theorized a major disaster would follow knocking out power and more:  “Most of your bridges are out. The port has been devastated and is in flames. This sounds like some movie, doesn’t it? But I think these are realistic vulnerabilities that you can face.”

Geologists then warned that “a magnitude 7 or 8 earthquake could occur essentially at anytime” in Anchorage.

The average interval between quakes of at least magnitude 7 within 90 miles of Anchorage from 1912 to 1964 was 17.4 years, they noted.

The last quake of such a magnitude to rock the city was the Denali fault, but it was 176 miles north of Anchorage. The city was statistically due for a good shake up near by.

When it came, many Alaskans looked around, figured they got off easy, picked up the pieces after the shaking stopped and started moving on as they have always done. And it brought out the best in Alaskans.

There were Republicans helping their Democrat neighbors and vice versa in a state that has become as divisively partisan as the rest of the country in the last couple years.

Only three days before the ground shook, Anchorage Daily News columnist Michael Carey was writing about how Alaska doesn’t “have enough highly educated, highly innovative, highly secular, affluent professionals of the stripe who dominate Portland and Seattle elections to change the outcome in statewide tundra contests.”

“If you disagree with my pessimism, review the election returns for the Kenai Peninsula, the Matanuska Valley, Eagle River, North Pole and up and down Alaska’s highway system. Where Alaskans wear Carhartts, the Last Frontier is as red as fresh blood and reliably Republican as far as the eye can see.”

On Friday, the Carhartts gang was hard at work helping out the suits. The power was back on only hours after the shaking stopped. The highways were being cleared of rock falls and other debris. The sinkholes that opened under some roads were being filled.

Carey is right that Alaska is trailing Seattle, Portland, Taipei City, Chengdu, Shenzhen, Silicone Valley, Route 128, Dresden, Tel Aviv, Kyoto and whole lot of other places in the innovation department these days, but the once blue state turned red remains at the top of the list for resilience.

That offers hope that the “get ‘er done” innovation for which Alaskans were once famous will one day make a come back.









24 replies »

    • agreed. but none of them were close to within that 90-mile radius. the Iliamna quake of 2016, which did some serious damage on the Kenai, was, i believe, the closest at 160 miles to the southwest. and distance makes a big difference between felt and destructive.

  1. Hopefully the shaker scared soy boys like Michael Carey back to Portland where he can dress in all black and play Antifa all day long. If not, then bring on another one Lord.

  2. Steve, this is branching pretty far from Craig’s main flow (but then again, maybe not because a lot of his article is about flexibility). Global warming might change the Iditarod Race route, but lack of South Central freezing and snow cover will not necessarily stop the Race. Rule # 1 was originally written, “The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race shall start the first Saturday in March, regardless of trail or weather conditions.” What that means in regard to the current warming trend is, that while it may not be possible to run it from Anchorage straight through to Nome, non-interrupted, all the way by dog team as I was privileged to do in 1973 and ’74, it will run somewhere. That’s even if it has to use routes that do not include the Iditarod Trail (as when it ran down the Yukon from Fairbanks.) Now if the Pole melts – – –

    • Rod,
      I appreciate your Resiliency in this matter and I do love Alaskan Huskies (just had my two out ski joring this morning) but I feel depending on the Yukon River for safe travel to Nome this Spring will be unreliable to say the least as temps continue to stay well above normal for winter in the Far North.
      Canada is faced with similar problems in Dawson and I wonder how the Yukon Quest will fair as well?
      “Some people thought it was just a freakish winter last year, when the Yukon River never completely froze over at Dawson City. … Most years, the river is frozen by now and the territorial government would be preparing to build and maintain an official ice road crossing, where the ferry normally travels in summer.”
      Might be time to ask Martin to breed up some more Poodles as the climate continues to warm?
      I cannot see huskies running 1,000 miles in 40 degree sunny skies this Spring?

      • Thanks Steve,

        If they really want to stick by ol’ Rule #1, the main part is that it SHALL start. It would be a real test of that “shall” part of the rule, but the race could move north of the Yukon. How about Prudhoe to Nome around the coast? (Not saying that’s probable or practical.)

        Although river ice was pretty much safe enough, there were some freakishly warm races back in the early ’80s where it rained a lot, particularly the year they went up the Anvik River and hit the coast at Golsovia south of Unalakleet. The drivers had to unlearn a lot that had been learned running super cold races, in particular figure out how to keep the pups cool enough to run in above freezing temps.

      • “Let me be clear. I completely agree with all the NAS findings. Global warming is real and is being caused by humans, mainly by burning coal, oil, petrol and natural gas, which puts carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas – into the atmosphere. Global warming will result in major harm to humanity if left unchecked. The solution is to stop using fossil fuels for our energy supply and switch to solar and wind power, and to adapt to some of the coming climate change.”

      • Sorry Steve, oil, natural gas, and coal rule. Solar and wind on a large failure are nothing more then a scam to male the rich richer. An utter failure. Of course nuclear power is hard to beat. How long has this planet been around? What? 4 billion years? How many changes has it experienced? How long has man been tracking the weather? 150yrs? So, you don’t believe NASA when it comes to Alaska currently warming because of el Nino but, you believe their lies and fudged data over Global Warming?

  3. Hi Alaska friends! I read Craig’ news site often just to make sure all is well and keep up with all that is not. I am not surprised about the resiliency of Alaskans in Craig’s article and hope that the “pull together spirit” lasts and provides a reminder of how special Alaska is. My thoughts and well-wishes are with all of you. If there is anything I can do from far away Louisiana, please let me know.
    Best Regards

  4. Craig,
    Great topic!
    I am from the Ralph Waldo Emerson school of thought that firmly believes in “Self Reliance”, although I would challenge the belief that all “Carharts” in AK are Red.
    Many Alaskans consider themselves as undecided, independent or libertarians when it comes to political debate.
    I am even certain there are a few “greenies” out there with faded Charharts walking the streets of Homer, Girdwood, Hope, Talkeetna and Chickaloon and other pockets of “the Valley”.
    To paint our state with only the colors of Blue and Red does not explain many popular ballot initiatives like the legalization of cannibus or the stand for salmon measure.
    APRN did a good story on how there is a new rifle organization to rival the NRA in AK.
    “There are some pro-Second Amendment citizens that say they feel put off by the National Rifle Association’s politics. That’s leading to the emergence of left-leaning shooting groups across the country. Meet the Socialist Rifle Association in Alaska.”
    Lastly, many lineman and operators are union throughout the state and do not automatically vote left or right…Walker was a good example of this.

    • Good take, Steve. As a good friend of my likes to say ‘In Alaska, liberals and conservatives don’t argue about the right to bear arms. We argue about what caliber to use.’ Also, I can definitely back up your claim of greenies in carharts where I live.

  5. I’ll say here Craig, that had Alaska still been a blue state we would have been subjected to Trump’s “gut feeling” on what we have been doing wrong here.
    He may have even dropped by to toss out paper towels like in Puerto Rico.

  6. The quake was good for Anchorage. For a day people stopped fighting each other, got along and actually talked to and helped their neighbors. But soon the quake will be forgotten and Anchorage will go back to hating and fighting mode.

    • It’s funny how trying times bring large groups of people together, and then as soon as the stress is turned down a bit, it’s right back to our old divisions. I highly suggest Sebastian Junger’s book – Tribe. It is some pretty interesting stuff on group physiology and psychology.
      I also think that this earthquake was good for Anchorage (and hopefully for AK as well) in that it showed how fragile our infrastructure really is without completely screwing everyone. Can you even imagine the damage that would be caused from a really large earthquake like the ’64 quake would do to our state (especially Anchorage) today? We have got to beef up our roads and bridges and diversify our infrastructure. Or…. we could just repair the damage done, and forget about ’64 and wimpy ’18 and wait until there is an actual devastating event. That would give us all something to talk about on Craig’s comment boards – if there was any internet communication available.

      Cheers Alaska!

      • Hey Bill,
        Thanks for the chuckle – I have never be more proud of our DOT. I can’t wait to drive down to Anchorage to see how great the roads are. Or…. I could probably find a better way to spend a day than to sit in traffic as DOT puts the pieces back together. Not to bag on just the DOT though, this is a state issue – not just with 1 department in the state. Here’s my ‘shocker’ revelation: our state government has been failing to improve our infrastructure as our state has grown over the past 40 years. I’m sure that you are as shocked as I am by this…
        Cheers to you sir!

      • Actually Jack, I saluted Gov. Walker when he ended the two enormous projects (Knik Arm Bridge and Juneau Access Road) when our budget crisis warranted it.
        Have to say we did spend for years like drunken sailors with results like LIO building in Anchorage, rather than more needed infrastructure, but that sort of spending has stopped IMO. We’ll see how things shake out with new Governor (who seems to be on board with those two big projects).

      • I hear ya, Bill. I consider myself a fiscally conservative libertarian. I think that most of the past 15 years has been a drunken sailor spending spree with our ‘conservative’ legislators at the helm. Pathetic. I feel that our government is out of control with their spending on their buddy’s pet projects. However, I’ve never been one of those ‘Let’s cut government until there’s no government left’ ding dongs. I’ve always maintained that our society needs to provide for itself the means for safety, travel and protection from invasion. I also applauded Gov Walker when he started cutting fluff projects – I wish he would have cut more of these (crack smokin’ gas pipeline dream) instead of the AK Trooper posts that he did. That being said, we do need to come up with a comprehensive plan to expand our infrastructure. When we have budget windfalls, we shouldn’t be handing out giant PFD’s or building gold plated palaces, we should put that $ to work for our state where it can actually provide a return on the investment.

      • I don’t see anymore windfalls as we’ve given up the big money at high oil prices with the loss of ACES. And we didn’t get anything for low oil prices in the deal, either.
        As far as infrastructure, a look at that Vine Road issue from the air shows a pretty clear blunder by the contractor, as well as whomever was inspecting for DOT. Sure hope someone can go back and collect for that. I suspect all of that fill will need to be removed and replaced-looks like it just became a liquid under the shaking.
        Who’s going to be first to select that Knik Arm Bridge site and how far from this fault will it need to be? And what strength earthquake will we demand it hold up to?

  7. craig check out new iditarod boards presidents ties to stan hoolie seems to me that is a conflict if interest for some one nearly fired less than a year ago.

    • Rick,
      This whole state is a conflict of “Interests”….the only thing that will end the ITC is Global Warming, but it is coming fast as December arrives and NO rivers are frozen in Willow this year.

      • Time to move the restart to northern Minnesota! Don’t worry, the upper valley just got 3″ of snow today, so we should be good for the race. Unless it rains again… like it’s supposed to this afternoon. Lovin’ me some non-climate change up here!

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