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Earthquake Rattles Southeast Alaska, Likely Damaging Communications Network

Mother Nature rattled Northern Southeast this morning with and magnitude 5.9 earthquake and several dozen aftershocks. The quake appeared to have damaged internet and cell service to thousands of Southeast residents.

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Alaska Power and Telephone is one of the primary internet and cell providers for Haines and Skagway and other small Southeast communities. With 3,000-4,000 of its customers without service, spokesman Mark McReady says the company presumes an major underwater fiber optic cable near Juneau was affected by the quake.

“It sounds like the majority of our Southeast Alaska customers are affected because, I believe, that particular highway was our primary link between Seattle and Alaska to the rest of the world,” McReady said. “So, at this point you basically have a lot of the carriers – long distance and data carriers – scrambling to reroute and talking to each other to determine how best to get that accomplished in the shortest time frame.”

The cable is owned by Alaska Communication Services but used by several providers, including AP&T.

ACS has not released any details of the outage or an exact cause, except to say it is working to restore service.

There was no information from AP&T or ACS about how long the outage might last.

The main quake happened just before 3 a.m. and was centered about 40 miles west of Gustavus. That’s along the Fairweather Fault, according to state seismologist Michael West of the Alaska Earthquake Information Center. At 5.9, it was widely felt he said and is considered a significant quake.

“Only in Alaska would we dismiss that as maybe not that big,” West said. “We really have the magnitude scale completely devalued in Alaska – 5.9 is a very significant earthquake.”

West also explains earthquakes can generate underwater landslides that can damage or sever underwater cables. He can’t confirm that’s the exact cause of the Southeast outages, but it’s definitely plausible, he says.

“There are well-published studies on submarine landslides in this area,” West said. “You look at Southeast right there, there’s big, tall mountains and big glaciers and what are these processes doing? Well, they’re dumping massive amounts of sediment right into the ocean, right off shore. And so that whole area is known to be very prone to landslides.”

“We’re speculating here, right now, you and I, but there’s every reason to think that an earthquake of nearly magnitude 6.0 would be capable of generating modest submarine landslides.”

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