Kenai Peninsula hotbed for disasters

Posted: Saturday, March 04, 2000

Floods and fires.

Avalanches and earthquakes.

Tsunamis, oil spills and volcanoes.

All these things are not just sensationalistic movie plots. They also are real possibilities when one lives on the Kenai Peninsula.


No caption was contained in the photo file

Photo by Mason Marsh

"We have virtually everything here on the Kenai Peninsula," said borough emergency management co-ordinator John Alcantra. "(Since 1989), we've had 15 different things that have been declared disasters."

According to the "Disaster Recovery Handbook," more than 10 percent of the 20th century's earthquakes have occurred in Alaska, releasing one-fourth of all global earthquake energy.

Individual responsibility is the key because government is not going to be able to be there right away. We're not going to be able to shelter and provide food for everybody in a major disaster.

-- John Alcantra, emergency management

coordinator for the Kenai Peninsula Borough

Floods account for nearly half of Alaska's disaster-related emergencies.

Southcentral is especially vulnerable to flooding during spring thaws and heavy summer rainfall.

About one-twelfth of the world's active, above-ground volcanoes are in Southcentral and Southwestern Alaska.

Coastal communities are prone to tsunamis, which can be caused by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, calving glaciers or avalanches -- anything displacing a large amount of ocean water.

Trees killed by spruce bark beetles pose a fire hazard above and beyond those related to living in a densely wooded, sparsely populated area.

According to Sharon Roesch, of the Alaska Divi-sion of Forestry, roughly 90 percent of the peninsula's wildfires are started accidentally by people. The most common cause is small, private debris or trash burning.

The peninsula's northern region, surrounded by mountains, is in danger of ava-lanches during the winter and rock slides during the summer.

The industrial and shipping areas can be grounds for any number of chemical and hazardous material accidents. The main transportation arteries also are vulnerable to disasters while chemicals are in shipment via air, ground or water.

People may feel overwhelmed or helpless in the face of all these potential disasters. However, there are things they can do to minimize the danger to themselves, their families and their property.

Emergency services personnel universally recommend personal preparation. Being able to provide for your own household is important, they say, because there are no guarantees other provisions will be available.

"Individual responsibility is the key because government is not going to be able to be there right away," said Alcantra. "We're not going to be able to shelter and provide food for everybody in a major disaster."

It will take some strain off local, state and federal authorities the better prepared more people are, he said.

Emergency plans give people a sense of what will need to be done, should something happen, and increasing home safety is always a good idea, Alcantra said.

Overall, Alcantra said, the more information people have the better prepared they can be and the more likely they will be to make it through a disaster relatively unscathed.

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