A week after the Anchorage earthquake, city continues to find damaged homes

Jessica Fox stands outside her home, which was badly damaged by the Nov. 30 earthquake. Fox said her porch was level before the earthquake hit. (Photo: Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

On a quiet side street in Anchorage’s Sand Lake neighborhood, a yellow sign appeared Wednesday on resident Chris George’s front door.

“RESTRICTED USE,” it states in bold, capital letters, with a handwritten note beneath: “Not recommended to occupy until engineer evaluation of foundation and soils.”

George is still living there, though, with his son and mother.

“Nowhere else to go,” George said.

The sign was placed there by the city. It’s the beginning of an inspection process that could take weeks, showing how Anchorage is still coming to grips with the extent of the damage to buildings and homes following the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that struck the region on Nov. 30.

As of Dec. 6, the municipality had declared 33 buildings and homes unsafe to occupy, most in Eagle River, one of the hardest-hit areas. Another 149 are labeled with yellow “restricted use” signs.

As the municipality continues inspecting neighborhoods and homes, those numbers are expected to climb.

Anchorage resident Chris George stands next to the sign the city posted on his door following the Nov. 30 earthquake. (Photo: Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

An inspector told George the earthquake caused his house to sink about six inches. The damage to his home isn’t immediately noticeable driving by, but a closer inspection reveals that things are slightly askew. The deck is tilted, and there’s a crack between the roof of his carport and the wall.

About a half-dozen other homes have yellow signs on George’s street. They indicate the homes are damaged and need inspection and repairs.

That’s better than a red sign, which means a home is unfit to occupy.

George said he is still figuring out next steps. He doesn’t have earthquake insurance and at this point, he has no idea how much fixing his home will cost.

But, he said, “I’m pretty lucky because a lot of other people got it a lot worse…I’m not complaining, really.”

George’s next-door neighbor, Jessica Fox, also got a yellow sign. She described the damage from the couch in her living room, beneath a line of wind chimes that started ringing when the ground shook a week ago.

“The morning of, we realized that our house sank and actually split in half,” Fox said.

The split wasn’t immediately visible from the living room, but one of the side rooms angles away from the rest of the house. Fox had been told it’s not safe to go inside. Her front porch slopes down towards her house at a more extreme angle. And Fox has a series of photos on her computer documenting even more extensive damage beneath her home, showing twisted beams and a crack in the foundation running the full length of the house.

Fox said she’s looking into what it would take to make repairs, but after a conversation with a contractor, she wasn’t feeling hopeful.

“Because of how the house was built and how it sank, it’s probably going to be deemed a total loss,” Fox said.

Fox does have earthquake insurance. But that doesn’t mean the process is going to easy. She said she’s lived in this home for 15 years.

“It was the first house that my husband and I got together,” Fox said. “Our kids have grown up here.”

The municipality doesn’t yet have a good sense of how many other Anchorage homeowners are dealing with similar problems. After checking commercial buildings, hospitals and schools, the city’s building inspectors have had just a few days to look at homes, according to Don Hickel, lead structural inspector with the municipality of Anchorage.

Hickel said many homes still need to be inspected and they can only work in daylight hours. Still, they are trying to at least lay eyes on every neighborhood in Anchorage.

“It’s going to take some time,” Hickel said.

That means in the coming days and weeks, more red, yellow and green signs will start to pop up around the Anchorage area.

According Ross Noffsinger with the municipality’s Development Services Department, the signs don’t trigger anything related to insurance or government assistance. They’re posted simply for safety purposes.

Still, as far as the city’s concerned, most Anchorage buildings performed well in the earthquake. Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said it’s not surprising the city is continuing to find homes with damage.

“The level of damage is something you can anticipate from an earthquake of this magnitude,” Berkowitz said. “We need to remember how fortunate we are that nobody was killed, there were very few injuries, and that whatever is a material thing that was broken can be replaced.”

To request an inspection from the city, Anchorage-area homeowners can go to the website muni.org. More resources are available at the website ready.alaska.gov. Residents can also call the State Individual Disaster Assistance Hotline at 1-855-445-7131.