Earthquake!

What a day. What. A. Day.

As you may have heard, our day began rather abruptly in the wee hours of this morning. At almost exactly 1:30am, the earth decided to give us all a wake up call.  And it wasn’t a soft, gradual wake up like my new Philips Wake-Up Light. It was abrupt, jolting, and all around scary as hell. I’d fallen asleep about 10 minutes prior, and immediately upon being awoken realized what was happening. Instinctually I blurted, “earthquake!” threw off the covers, and rushed toward Little B’s room. I opened her door and started talking to her right away. Before I finished the 3 steps to her bed she had sat up, was starting to cry, and her hands were shooting straight up at me.  I picked up Little B, who was holding Puppy and Bear (the B’s have some exceptionally creative naming skills) tightly under each arm. We then met up with Mama B in the doorways at the end of our hallway and attempted to keep our composure while the world around us shook, rattled, and rolled. Afterwards, Mama B said that for her, one of the scariest aspects was that you were expecting it was going to stop, but instead it got stronger. The next 30 seconds felt like about 5 minutes, and as it goes on you find yourself thinking, “is this the big one?”

20160124_100235
It’s the planet

For anyone who hasn’t lived through an earthquake, particularly a strong earthquake – it’s a wild experience. There’s really no other experience like having the ground beneath you shake and move violently. Physically, it’s a bit like being on a boat during choppy seas, but there’s a mental piece that’s hard to explain. Your mind expects boats to rock; it expects large structures like houses, and certainly the ground on which they’re built, to remain stable. A moving house is an experience unlike any other that I’ve encountered. The noise, though, is the real adrenaline producer. In a strong earthquake, it sounds like the house is going to fall apart on you. Every single door in the house is banging against something. Bedroom and entrance doors bang/rub against the frame. Bifold closet doors rattle against the track. Cabinet doors bang against the cabinets as they open/close. Then, behind each of those doors is a bunch of your stuff. Dishes, pantry items, everything in your fridge, coat hangers, brooms, and other random items you place in closets – it all moves, and it all makes varying degrees of noise as it does so. Freestanding shelves knock against the wall, and everything on the shelves knock against each other. Whatever falls off the shelves and walls crashes to the floor and makes quite a racket. Last, but certainly not least, the structure of your house itself is flexed. What I can only compare to the sound of thermal expansion/contraction (but not just one board at a time here or there on a cold winter night), the wood framing creaks and moans as it’s pushed, twisted, and shaken. All combined, it sounds a whole lot worse than it is.

When it finally stopped, we did a quick damage assessment – a handful items fell off of our shelves, but thankfully that was it – and tried to gain a bit of control over the adrenaline pulsing through our veins. Little B’s immediate response was, “It loud! It very loud!” I immediately checked social media (everything is done on Facebook groups up here) to see how everyone else fared. The amount of activity at 1:30 am was … atypical. Facebook and Twitter were aglow with Southcentral Alaskans sharing their thoughts and reactions.  Many people commented that this was the largest earthquake they had experienced since the 1964 quake. Someone shared the USGS website which showed an initial reading of a magnitude 6.4. My initial reaction to that: no {bleep}ing way. About a week after we moved here, we experienced a low-6’s magnitude quake (our first quake experience) and this was way more powerful than that. When the number was finalized, the USGS revised their measurement up to 7.1. Since the Richter Scale is logarithmic, a 7.0 is 10x greater shaking amplitude than a 6.0 and 100x greater than a 5.0. But I think someone on Twitter said it best:

Earthquake upgraded to a 7.1 on the richter scale. Although it felt like it was about a 9.1 on the poop your pants scale. #Alaska

Mama B read to Little B as we all tried to calm down a bit so we could go back to sleep. I made a quick run outside to check on everything out there. House looked fine. We were still on the foundation. The heat oil tank was still on its stand. The natural gas meter was still connected, there was no smell of rotten eggs, and the meter wasn’t spinning (telling me I didn’t have a leak in the crawlspace). Phew.

Our Sunday morning routine involves a trip over to the Duncan House Diner for breakfast (ok, ok, sometimes brunch). Winters at the Duncan House are always quiet. The hustle and bustle of tourist season gives way to the relative calm of locals swinging in to grab a bite to eat with friends and family. We’ve gotten used to walking in, being greeted by the staff, and immediately being seated. We learned a new rule of thumb today: Duncan House is busy the morning after a big earthquake. I’m not sure if everyone got a rough night sleep and was already up so they decided to get some food, or if they wanted to come into town and talk to everyone about the quake, but it was busy.

After reflecting on our experience, we were happy that we both remained calm, but agreed we needed to refresh ourselves on how we should respond to future quakes. This is still a relatively new experience for us, and Mama B commented after the fact that while it was happening, it was tornado safety that was top of mind. (You can take the girl out of the Midwest, but you can’t take the Midwest out of the girl.) We were also thankful we had experienced the 6.3 magnitude earthquake shortly after we arrived back in July. Because of that, we opted to keep our extra mason jars packed up in boxes and had earthquakes top of mind as we loaded up our open shelving around the house. We were surprised but thankful we had as little damage as we did. Of course, it helps that all of our picture frames are still packed up in boxes.

After breakfast we did a quick damage assessment run to the shop. I was worried I would find a pile of broken glass all over the floor since the three old windshields from the bus are leaned up against the wall. Thankfully, everything was in good shape at the shop. We perused the news sites and social media to get an idea of what sort of damage had occurred. Thankfully no one was injured or killed, yet property damage was present. A few homes up in Kenai were completely destroyed by fires started after natural gas lines ruptured. Just about every retail store from Anchorage to Homer had a big mess on their hands. This poor hardware store in Anchorage had probably the worst aisles in the store tip over – the countless bins of assorted hardware.

On the whole the damage was minor. If you had open shelves, you likely lost a few items. If you were a retail store or library, or other area with a lot of open shelves a fair amount of items were probably dislodged or damaged. There were some power outages, but all were resolved in relatively short order. The most significant damage outside of the destroyed homes was a bit of roadway in Kasilof. A large crack developed and good portion of one lane sunk down a bit. We ended up driving by it later in the day (for a completely unrelated reason) and it’d become a bit of a tourist destination. Cars were parked on the roadway and people were out posing for photos with the damage. Weird.

That alone would’ve made for an exciting day, but it got a little better yet. We made a last minute trip up to Kenai late this afternoon to buy a tool that no one in town sells and I wanted for work on the bus. The drive up was stressful because we were racing against the clock to get to the store before it closed, and we were stuck behind a line of people that patently refused to use the slow vehicle turn outs every few miles. We made it just in time to get the item as the employees were leaving for the day. After fueling up, we turned around and began the 90 minute journey back home, this time in the dark.

About 45 minutes outside of Homer, we came upon a vehicle on the side of the road with its hazards on. You always slow down for this in Alaska. Could be vehicle trouble, a moose collision, health issues – whatever. Depending on where you are, time of year, and time of day you could be the only person capable of helping for a few hours before someone else rolls through. We pulled over in front of a pickup with its hood up and a guy in the front seat just as someone else coming from the other direction had pulled over as well. As I got out of our truck, I heard the exchange between the two drivers. “Do you have jumper cables?” “Oh, sorry, no!” He swung over and looked at me. “Do you have cables?” Like any normal former Minnesotan with jumper cables in his truck, I replied “You bet!” I asked what was going on because neither of us would be happy with the outcome if his alternator was shot and that was the cause of his breakdown. Vehicles don’t just die and then need a jump on the side of a 55mph road.

The big-bellied, gray haired, retiree shared that his rig was a diesel that he’d converted to run waste vegetable oil, and while driving down the road he inadvertently flipped the switch to change fuel sources. With no veggie oil, and then the switch back to diesel, he introduced air into the fuel line and the engine quit. Having a weak set of batteries in the truck, he wasn’t able to purge the air and start his vehicle. Good. So I could actually help him and not just limp him 500′ down the road.

I swung the truck around so we were nose to nose and went digging for my cables. I had a pair, but I didn’t have my pair. I had Mama B’s old pair of cables from her Civic, not my pair of heavy duty cables for the truck. This matters because diesel engines require a lot of power to turn over and start. Every diesel I’ve ever seen has two batteries for starting. My piddly cables would transfer power, that’s for sure, but they wouldn’t transfer nearly the amount of power that my larger cables would’ve. This isn’t just theoretical “oh wouldn’t it be nice” this is actual “you’re going to have trouble effectively jumping another vehicle”.  And that’s just what we had. If I had the right cables, we probably could’ve had him on his way in a few minutes. Working with what we had, we let my alternator charge his batteries for 5-10 minutes as we strategized plans for where I’d tow him, should we get to that point. I always have a tow strap and recovery strap in the truck so if we couldn’t get him started, at least we’d get him off the roadway.

Thankfully, that concern was all for naught. With a few extra minutes with my foot on the accelerator to increase the output of my alternator, and a lot of priming the fuel filter the engine finally roared to life. Before we parted ways, he shared that he was from Anchorage and that his wife had wanted him to check on their cabin in Happy Valley (about 3.5 hours south of Anchorage) after this morning’s quake. He hadn’t even reached the cabin yet when he incapacitated his vehicle. Rough day. Somehow it came up that we’d recently moved to AK from MN. Turns out he’s originally from Rochester, MN and moved up here 35 years ago. Small world. We bid him farewell and continued our journey home. Thankfully (and, surprisingly) we saw no moose on the drive southbound. A week ago on the same drive we saw 4.

1-24-16 earthquake
Blue dot is the main quake, the gold dots are aftershocks within the past 24 hours.

Now, if only I could get my body to stop feeling phantom earthquakes. There have been 100+ aftershocks in the past 24 hours, the most noticeable being a magnitude 4.3 that hit just as I started writing this post and my body’s having a hard time differentiating between the real-deal and the tricks my brain is playing on it. Let’s hope this wasn’t just a foreshock for an even bigger quake in the days to come.

Finally, I would also like to say thanks for checking out our blog. Today we hit our second highest number of page views ever (which, admittedly is still a very small number) and we can only surmise that’s because you all showed up to see if we had anything to share about the the earthquake which made national news. We like having this blog as a way to document our story for our family’s sake, but we also hope that it’s an enjoyable way for us to keep in touch with all of you.

5 thoughts on “Earthquake!

  1. 9.1 on the poop your pants scale pretty much sealed the deal on this blog post ?. That and, “it loud. It very loud.” Poor babe.

    Admittedly, I hope to experience this on a lesser scale during my visit next month. Glad you’re all safe.

    Reply

  2. hohdie bah-ckets! 🙂 Glad you guys (and all your new neighbors) are okay!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *