Fallen dishes, water leaks and borrowed shoes: Scenes after the earthquake in downtown Anchorage

People take shelter at the Egan Center in downtown Anchorage after an earthquake on November 30, 2018. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

The earthquake hit just as Anchorage was beginning its day, causing widespread damage, derailing plans and snarling traffic.

At the Dena’ina Convention Center in downtown Anchorage, water was steadily dripping from the ceiling. Greg Spears, general manager for Anchorage Convention Centers, said it was from the sprinkler system as he walked around to assess the damage, stepping around large puddles and pointing out fire retardant on the floors. Spears said in all his decades living here, Friday’s earthquake was one of the biggest he had ever experienced.

Anchorage Convention Centers general manager Greg Spears at the Denai’ina Center in downtown Anchorage shortly after the earthquake on November 30, 2018. (Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

“I had just gotten out of my car behind the building and felt it, heard it,” Spears said. “I had to hang on to a light pole just to stand up. It was one of the most significant shakers I’ve seen in 40 years.”

At first, state officials told people in Anchorage to go to the Dena’ina Center if they needed shelter.

Anna Oxereok was there with her sister and her eight-year-old grandson. They are from Wales in Western Alaska, but came to Anchorage for a conference. Oxerok said they were in a coffee shop with the earthquake hit.

“Heard the rumble before we felt anything,” Oxerok said.

Oxereok said she told her family members to get under the table.

“Dishes, the cups and stuff started falling off,” Oxerok said. “We saw some people go under the table and there were others that were kind of surrounding each other, like in a big hug. We waited for a while, and then there was an aftershock, then we went back under the table.”

Soon, because of the damage to the Dena’ina Center, people needing shelter were directed to a different convention center, the Egan Center, a few blocks away. Many there were also from out of town, temporarily evacuated from their hotel rooms.

Angela Johnson from Nelson Lagoon was holding her dog, Mavis, with a makeshift leash made of bathrobe ties. She said she was just waking up in her hotel room at the Hilton when the shaking started.

“The power went out, so we were standing in the doorway like you’re supposed to, right?” Johnson said. “And the doorway was moving so hard back and forth, it was like the frame was made of twigs.”

Angela Johnson of Nelson Lagoon was staying in a hotel when the earthquake hit. (Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Johnson was staying on the 14th floor. Wrapped in a blanket and wearing borrowed flip-flops, she was waiting at the convention center to hear from the Hilton when she could go back.

“We had to run outside,” Johnson said. “We didn’t have any shoes on or anything. We don’t have our wallet, we don’t have our phones.”

Outside, a few windows were shattered and several traffic lights were out, but otherwise things were surprisingly quiet downtown. Most businesses were dark, having shut down for the day.

Mike Middleton was standing outside Flattop Pizza and Humpy’s, two of the restaurants he manages. He said was dealing with water damage, a power outage and other, less urgent problems.

“We lost quite a lot of alcohol and things fell, obviously,” Middleton said.

But Middleton predicted a quick recovery, at least for his businesses:

“Hopefully by mid-afternoon, we might be able to open in some fashion,” Middleton said, laughing.

As the rest of Anchorage got busy picking up the pieces from the 7.0 quake, Flattop did, indeed, re-open by Friday afternoon.