Middle school student describes terrifying quake

Tamara (l) and Nadja (r) Josey reunited after the morning earthquake in Anchorage on Nov. 30, 2018. (Hillman/Alaska Public Media)

Tamara Josey was in her midtown cafe preparing for a catering event when the 7.0 earthquake struck Anchorage this morning.

“At first, it just felt like something was jarring, and then all of a sudden, it just like this rumble that wouldn’t stop,” she said. “Everything was swaying and moving and I’m looking across at my husband, who’s packing up the equipment for an event, and he’s looking at me and he was like, ‘You know, get in the doorway!’

She said at first she couldn’t move. “Not because I was scared. But like I felt like I was stumbling. Like I was so dizzy from how much it was moving. I felt like if I moved it all I was just going to fall over.”

About six miles away, her 13-year-old daughter Nadja Josey was just sitting beginning her test on a computer during first-period at Hanshew Middle School. When the rumbling began, her teacher started issuing orders.

“She said, ‘Get down under the table.’ And I tried to get down fast as I could, and the ceiling, like the tiles, they just like fell. And my ankle got stuck and my fingers got stuck, so I had to move them out of the way.”

The fire alarm went off and after the shaking stopped, her teacher told them to leave the building.

“And then as soon as we got downstairs, everyone was screaming and crying. And the water sprinklers, they activated themselves,” she said. “It was wet and dusty everywhere.”

Nadja went outside with classmates and borrowed a phone to call her mother; hers was trapped in the rubble upstairs.

“I used my friend’s phone, and I called my mom and I was very calm. But then I talked to her and I heard her voice and I just started crying,” she recalled. “I was like ‘Mom, I got stuck under there, it hurt really bad. My fingers hurt.'”

“She was so terrified,” Tamara said of the phone call. “And all I’m doing is trying to reassure my daughter and like, ‘I gotta go. I gotta take care of my daughter.'” That was my main concern.”

She and her husband had already received a text from their son, assuring them of his safety.

It took Tamara about an hour and a half to drive through town to where her daughter waited, cold and wet, inside of a bus outside the school. Tamara said the experience taught her that they need to do a better job establishing their emergency plans.

“I know for one we’re just going to have to re-evaluate what we do in these times,” she said. “Like the emergency procedures: How do you handle this? What do you tell your kids so they can be prepared?”

Nadja said her ankle and fingers still hurt but she’s doing better. She has some mixed feelings about school opening up again.

“I’ll be kind of still shaken up by it and nervous, but maybe a little happy because I’ll get my phone back,” she said.

The Anchorage School District said schools will be closed until at least Wednesday so officials can assess the damage in every building.

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After being told innumerable times that maybe she asked too many questions, Anne Hillman decided to pursue a career in journalism. She's reported from around Alaska since 2007 and briefly worked as a community radio journalism trainer in rural South Sudan. ahillman (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.550.8447  |  About Anne

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