Crowd packs Eagle River school for quake recovery update

Damage to Houston Middle School took the most damage during the Friday earthquake, and it’s very likely it won’t be re-opened this school year. (Photo courtesy of Tim Leach)

It was standing room only at a question-and-answer session for Eagle River residents still recovering from the November earthquake. Local, state and federal officials were on hand to give information on how property owners should be filing damage claims, and what comes next.

Around 200 people crowded into the gym at Alpenglow Elementary, some spilled out beyond the doors and into the hallways, craning their necks to hear the meeting.

Eagle River resident Jesse James had lots of questions for officials.

“We had complete foundation failure,” James explained after the meeting.  “We’ve got doors that are cocked sideways, windows cocked sideways everywhere.”

Their home got a red tag from inspectors, deeming it uninhabitable. The family of five is currently splitting two hotel rooms.

“We’re just waiting for answers,” James said.

He thought the Q-and-A with officials was helpful once it ended and he could talk to people one-on-one to get advice. But he and his family are still in limbo. They have to check out of their hotel by January 6th.

“At that point we may move into the temporary housing side of things where we might have a rental house or, I dunno, we may have to see if we can buy another house,” James said. “I’m not sure what the options are yet, we’re still waiting it all out.”

Even though much of the major infrastructure damage in Anchorage is fixed, residents and public officials are realizing it will be a long road to full recovery.

Eagle River and Chugiak were hit hard by the quake. Two schools are closed, forcing students to relocate to new classrooms in different schools. That’s bringing all kinds of new problems with busing, schedules and school breakfast programs.

According to Municipal Manager Bill Falsey, Anchorage is navigating a recovery effort like this for the first time in recent memory.

“The city generally has pivoted pretty successfully through the initial response phase, and now we’re dealing with the aftermath. And it is a new process to all of us. People are having to grapple with where they can sleep if their home is red-tagged tonight and what they’re going to do to finance some of the needed repairs,” Falsey said.

As the state catalogs damages for its accounting of the earthquake’s aftermath, residents are still waiting for an official disaster declaration from the Trump Administration that would allocate federal funds for recovery.

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Zachariah Hughes reports on city & state politics, arts & culture, drugs, and military affairs in Anchorage and South Central Alaska. @ZachHughesAK About Zachariah