Series Of Quakes Rattle Northwest Alaska

A series of earthquakes rattled Northwest Alaska about 40 miles northeast of Kotzebue on Friday morning.

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The tremors began with a strong 5.6 magnitude earthquake at 10:44 Friday morning.

“It’s a very striking earthquake,” Michael West, a state seismologist and the director of the Alaska Earthquake Center in Fairbanks, said. “I’m not aware of anything in the last 30 years in the area anywhere close in size.”

He says the initial quake was the one of the largest on record for the region, and was followed by a series of less-powerful quakes, including a 5.3 magnitude aftershock that struck just 12 minutes later.

“We’ve recorded at least ten or so aftershocks in the last couple of hours, I’m quite sure there are many more that are a lot smaller,” West said.

The quakes occurred about 20 miles northeast of Noatak – a community of 500. The massive zinc mining operation at Red Dog is also 20 miles from the center of the series of quakes.

The centers of the quakes were about 20 miles northeast of the 500-strong community of Noatak, Also 20 away, the Red Dog Mine.

Staff at the Noatak school say it shook the whole building for nearly a minute. Ice fishermen on the Noatak River say it pushed water through their fishing hole and up on top of the ice.

“We have a VHF here and people were going on that,” Amy Mitchell, a health aide in training at the Noatak clinic, said. “Our other health aide and our supervisor were telling people to go under tables and under the doorframe – interesting and scary for me.”

Despite rattling buildings, no damage or injuries have been reported.

Seismologist West says there’s no evidence suggesting the quakes are a prelude to something bigger. Dozens of aftershocks continued through Friday but West says the seismic activity should die down by next week.

“Our alarms have been going crazy all morning with each one of these sort of updating into our system, but they’ll die off into the coming days,” West said.

The Earthquake Information Center says the quake was felt as far away as Kotzebue.