Middle of the Night Musings: Earthquake Edition

Most of us probably met the shaking with the same response as usual: wait it out. Alaska typically has about 20 earthquakes a day, most of which can’t be felt. The ones that can are usually small and used as jumpstarts for stalled conversations. Some are taken slightly more seriously, and after they settle down and everyone realizes it was minor, starts tossing numbers regarding magnitude. Some place quick bets and it becomes a game.

So last night (01:30) when the weird, swooshy swaying started I pretty much assumed the same, though it did feel very odd, like my house was sliding. Dude. I was in the living room at the computer and across the room was my son, fast asleep in his weekend campout area—the floor he occupied being right in front of an armoire I’d worried about in the past, for moments such as these.

I hopped up to go over there, more, certainly, a quite unnecessary precautionary measure, and as I stood above him everything started rattling rather forcefully. Still thinking it would stop any moment I was one second debating waking him and the next—hearing a low moan and knowing there was no way I could hold up that now-wobbling armoire if it did decide to topple over—leaning down, shaking him, urging him awake.

“Get up, quick! It’s OK, but come over here, quickly!” Of course he was half asleep but he moved impressively fast as the power crashed and we guided each other to the doorway. I’d only heard a few small things falling over, but wow! That shaking was really something else. It had gone on and on, long past the betting phase and into the one where people start to panic. Thoughts of 1964 crossed my mind and that terrible audio I’d once heard of the earth moaning and screeching, the one I could never listen to again. Had I imagined the growling as the shaking continued and my fear informed me how stupid I was to just stand there staring at my child? I recall the recurring thought as the quake continued: “It’s still shaking!” And what seemed like a full minute later thinking, “It’s still shaking!” And then: “Still!” It felt like so long, except the entire episode was only about 30 seconds or so. The 1964 quake, in contrast, went on for over four minutes. Typing this now, I can’t imagine what that must have been like for people who experienced this in daylight hours, and who saw the streets splitting wide open in front of them.

As we lingered in the doorway (see update below), surveying the arctic entry and the world outside, I wondered about the strange way the nature of the quake had shifted. At first it was that trippy rolling, like we were on a ship bouncing on waves. Then, over by the armoire, we were shaken violently, like characters inside a snow globe.

[Supermarket damage image to be replaced]

As is usual, it was my son who brought the clever back into our moment and when he picked up the phone I realized we did actually have a connection to the rest of the world. Our home wifi was out for the count but oh baby! Yes! Facebook! I was so glad to see other people also connecting and letting the rest of us know they were OK. And I laughed easily at the typically American response to moments such as these: humor.

At first I’d read the quake had been assigned a magnitude of 6.4; later this was changed to 7.1. A Facebook friend wrote:

I’d like to congratulate Alaska’s recent quake on its promotion from a 6.4 to 7.1. Your ambition is certainly noted. Coming from so far below the surface, you really had some gusto. Good work!

The Twitter hashtag #akquake also shows Alaskans getting their fun on as one commenter admits his wreck of a room looked like that before the earthquake. Someone else joked about not being able to differentiate between the aftershocks and her husband’s snoring. Still another lamented the loss of the rum stock. My boy decided he wanted to have an earthquake party on my bed with a bowl of Doritos in hand and Thor on the laptop.

Here’s an update from a Canadian living in Alaska:

And speaking of split roads, here’s a slideshow including a cracked road near Kasilof.

So yes, as mentioned in the video above, one home exploded following a gas leak and I’ve just read that elsewhere four other homes also were lost. However, damages as far as I know are not extensive (I realize the families who lost their homes might not feel the same way) and no one was hurt. Also, given the earthquake was centered 50 miles down, the dreaded tsunami won’t be plaguing us this time round. We’re all still watching updates as we go along.

Oh and by the way, my own power came back on at around 04:30 or so. I’d been drifting in and out of sleep so am not certain of the when, but it was such a wonderful surprise that it was restored so quickly–within a few hours. For us that meant no real digging out of emergency supplies, it being the middle of the night anyway. By the time we woke up they were not needed. A really great and huge thanks to all the amazing people who leave their warm homes or on-call stations in the middle of the night to help get us back to safety and comfort: electricity crews, police, firefighters, emergency and hospital medical personnel, military. You peeps are all simply fantastic and have our eternal gratitude. 🙂

Cheers, everybody!!

Update: This blog was updated to include some information I just saw posted as a link to Facebook. Click here for full post:

Cats, dogs and babies often naturally curl up in the fetal position. You should too in an earthquake. It is a natural safety/survival instinct. You can survive in a smaller void. Get next to an object, next to a sofa, next to a bed, next to a large bulky object that will compress slightly but leave a void next to it.

 Most everyone who gets under a doorway when buildings collapse is killed. How? If you stand under a doorway and the doorjamb falls forward or backward you will be crushed by the ceiling above. If the door jam falls sideways you will be cut in half by the doorway. In either case, you will be killed!

Many, many thanks to Nancy Nadon Burke for posting this article online.

3 thoughts on “Middle of the Night Musings: Earthquake Edition

  1. Pingback: Great Land History: 55 Years After Good Friday – before the second sleep

  2. I feel for you and I am glad you are OK. I was living in Los Angeles in 1994 when we had the quake (17th Jan 1994 4.30 am) there which killed a few unfortunates and caused a lot of damage. I wrote about it on my blog a while back. I still get the jitters whenever I feel one or hear of one. LA gets about 400 a day but most you cannot feel. Take care, keep vigilant.

    1. 400? I must be way off on my count because I’ve always known Alaska to be the most seismically active state, though CA has more damage-causing quakes. Whatever the case, same to you, stay safe, hopefully those plates will just settle down and stop rubbing at each other!

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