Unnerved but unharmed, Anchorage residents tidy up after 7.1 quake

An earthquake shook southcentral Alaska around 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning–with tremors felt from Two Rivers to Juneau. The most extensive damage appears to be on the Kenai Peninsula. The 7.1 earthquake was centered about 50 miles west of Anchor Point in Cook Inlet.

ML&P crews work on digging through cement to reach a malfunctioning transformer knocked out during the earthquake, interrupting power to the 5th Avenue Mall. Photo: Zachariah Hughes.
ML&P crews work on digging through cement to reach a malfunctioning transformer knocked out during the earthquake, interrupting power to the 5th Avenue Mall. Photo: Zachariah Hughes.

In Anchorage, Portage and the Mat-Su Valley the earthquake knocked out power to thousands of homes. By midday Sunday, electricity had been restored to all but a handful of homes.

Though some Anchorage residents seemed unnerved, it wasn’t enough to disrupt errands and shopping plans.

Shortly after opening at 11 a.m., just about every store in the 5th Avenue Mall remained shuttered and dark.

“The power is out, due to the earthquake,” said Kari Skinner, director of marketing and business development for the mall. Skinner buzzed between floors and back hallways, eyes scanning her phone as she answered questions from bewildered patrons.

“Due to safety concerns most stores have elected not to open,” she said.

The quake knocked out the mall’s transformer, which is buried under the sidewalk on 4th Avenue. Crews from Municipal Light and Power set up a small armada of trucks to dig up the pavement and replace the equipment.

Two department stores in the building have a different power source and opened as usual, letting in a steady flow of shoppers. Among them, Sue Doherty.

“I’ve lived her for 25 years, so it’s not like I’m not used to earthquakes, but this was a biggie,” Doherty said, standing outside the darkened Apple store where she’d come to get her phone fixed.

When the quake woke Doherty up in her east side home, it wasn’t the intensity but duration, about half a minute, that unsettled her. Still, she was out running errands because she sees a seismic event like this as par for the course.

“We live in Alaska and things are gonna happen. This is an earthquake zone, and we’re strong people, we can make it,” she said.

Soon after we spoke the lights flickered back on in some of the shops, and dozens of Mac computers glowed to life all at once.

One Alaskan slightly upset to miss the quake was Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, who has been weathered into Washington D.C. since Friday, following a conference for hundreds of mayors in the nation’s capital.

“There’s nothing quite like having snow and not having the gear to get around in it,” Berkowitz said by phone.

Early in the morning he got reports from City Manager Mike Abbott on damage spotted by crews from the Fire Department and utility companies as they responded to calls.

Berkowitz explained that in the big picture Anchorage fared well.

“I was relieved that nothing calamitous had occurred, I mean, this is very different than if it had been a full blown emergency,” he said.

There are disaster response plans in place that would have kicked in had the quake reached emergency status, he said. Concerns remain over seismic damage to infrastructure at the Port of Anchorage, but so far things appear ok: A regularly scheduled Matson ship was able to dock Sunday morning.

As for the mall, stores are expected to be back to normal Monday.