ANCHORAGE, AK — December 7, 2018 — On Friday, November 30, at 8:29 a.m. Alaska time, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake centered just 7 miles north of Anchorage shook the area. A 5.7-magnitude aftershock hit just moments later, and the region has experienced hundreds of smaller tremors in the past week, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Although roads and buildings were damaged, the structural damage was not as severe as one might expect from a quake this powerful, thanks to Alaska’s strict building codes.
These building codes went into effect following the massive 9.2-magnitude quake that devastated Alaska in 1964. That quake, the most powerful in U.S. history, killed more than 100 people and caused widespread devastation, according to The New York Times. Today, developers must adhere to rigorous building requirements and experts advise city planners based on seismic activity. These measures are at least partly responsible for the fact that last week’s powerful earthquake claimed no lives as most structures, though damaged, remained standing.
Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz praised the building codes and planning that kept damages at a minimum, the Associated Press reported. “In terms of a disaster, I think it says more about who we are than what we suffered,” Berkowitz said at a press briefing. “People pulled together. We followed the plans that were in place. We looked after one another.”
While the full extent of the damage is still being assessed, it’s clear that there is restoration work to be done. Anchorage is Alaska’s most populous city, and the earthquake set off a chain reaction of damages affecting many homes and businesses. In addition to impassable roads and bridges, Anchorage residents have faced power outages, water main breaks, structural fires, flooding, and landslides, The Washington Post reported. The quake also broke windows and opened cracks in buildings, leaving some without shelter in below-freezing temperatures until their homes could be inspected for safety, according to The New York Times.
Next week, government agencies will begin to assess residential damages in the region, according to Anchorage Daily News. Since most Alaskans don’t carry earthquake insurance policies, which are expensive, this assessment will help individuals obtain federal disaster assistance to repair their homes. While the exact number of damaged structures is still unknown, officials are estimating that 3,000 to 5,000 homes will be inspected in the Mat-Su Borough alone.
Although the aftershocks of the Alaska earthquake will likely continue for several months, Anchorage is already beginning the process of recovery. The city’s major utilities were all functional again by Saturday, and while schools and businesses were closed for a few days for safety inspections, many reopened this week and repairs are underway.