Sand Point’s docks and road damaged in 7.8 quake

Damage at a warehouse at the old dock in Sand Point (Photo courtesy of David Walls)

A magnitude-7.8 Aleutian earthquake late Tuesday night prompted tsunami warnings in communities across coastal Alaska, from Homer to Unalaska.  

Sand Point is a fishing community of about a thousand people, located about 550 miles southwest of Anchorage in the eastern portion of the Aleutian Chain. Earthquake damage closed both its city docks, which it uses to land the M/V Tustumena ferry and freight boats, and damaged the road to the harbor.

The floor sank in a warehouse on Sand Point’s old dock, creating a large crack across the length of the cement, according to City Administrator Jordan Keeler. He said a team of engineers will inspect the damage in the next week or so, and he’s confident that it looks worse than it actually is. 

“We have two docks total and they are both closed, effective immediately until we can get an inspection to verify the extent of the damage to both the new dock and the old dock,” Keeler said. 

In the meantime, closing down the docks could mean that freight shipments will be cancelled until they reopen. That could impact the island community’s ability to get fresh food, he added.  

All things considered, and despite the damage caused by the earthquake, Keeler said things went smoothly.  

The floor sank in a warehouse on Sand Point’s old dock, creating a large crack across the length of the cement. (Courtesy of David Walls)

“I’m just glad nobody was hurt,” he said. “Everybody was safe, and given the magnitude of the earthquake, the small amount of damage we did see, we are fortunate.”

Following the earthquake, Sand Point received a tsunami warning, and was the first community predicted to see a wave. Ultimately, the community only recorded a wave less than a foot tall, according to the National Tsunami Warning Center. 

Keeler said the community’s tsunami sirens sounded and the evacuation to the local school was orderly, even with only two public safety officers in the community

“We had people from the Trident plant go to the evacuation center. We had community members who live in lower lying areas, as well as people associated with the commercial fishing fleet go to the evacuation center,” Keeler said. 

But he added that given the COVID-19 pandemic, it was unusual to see members of the community in the same space as workers from the Trident Seafoods processing facility, which employs as many as 400 people. 

“Trident has a company-wide policy of not leaving the premises,” Keeler said. “So it was the first time this season that there was any even remotely close interaction between the community and the Trident plant employees.”

The processors and community members did not gather in the same room, he added.  

To date, there are no known cases of COVID-19 in Sand Point.