Earthquake rocks Interior, Southcentral Alaska

Posted: Sunday, November 03, 2002

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- A major earthquake rocked a sparsely populated area of interior Alaska early Sunday afternoon, cracking highways and roads, knocking over fuel tanks and shaking rural homes.

Bruce Turner of the West Coast and Alaska and Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer said the magnitude 7.9 quake hit at 1:13 p.m Alaska Standard Time and was centered 90 miles south of Fairbanks.

''It shook for a good 30 seconds,'' he said.

The quake was felt strongly in Anchorage about 270 miles south of the epicenter.

The earthquake occurred on the Denali Fault and had a shallow depth, said John Lahr, geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo. Shallow earthquakes generally are felt over a wider area.

''We expected this would have surface rupture that geologists could see on the ground and study,'' he said.

The earthquake did not generate a tsunami considered damaging to Alaska, western states or Canada, Turner said.

Alaska State Troopers had received no reports of injuries 90 minutes after the quake but were responding to damaged highways.

Lt. Lee Farmer said a 3-foot crack opened up in one lane of the George Parks Highway, the main road between Fairbanks and Anchorage. A trooper was on the scene and a state Department of Transportation crew was on its way to assess damage.

''Anybody with one of those lowriders out of Anchorage probably doesn't want to head that way,'' Farmer said.

Troopers also responded to damage reports on the Alaska Highway near Northway, 256 miles southeast of Fairbanks, and the Richardson Highway near Paxson, 178 miles south of Fairbanks, where a 3-4-foot crack closed the highway, said Transportation Department spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy. She said repair crews hoped to have it opened within four hours.

Residents of the Tok Cutoff, which leads from the Alaska Highway to Southcentral highways connected to Anchorage, said the quake knocked over fuel tanks.

In Slana, which has no electric utility, families use diesel fuel to power generators. Sharrel Webster said without help in setting her family's fuel tanks upright, she was likely to lose food in her freezer.

A semitrailer the family uses for storage was pushed over.

''It's laying on it side,'' she said. The well casing on the family's well lifted 2 inches out of the ground and cracks opened up so wide that she could stick her hand them.

Randy Schmoker, a metal worker in Porcupine Creek on the Tok Cutoff, was in his shop when he felt the ground move.

''I thought, 'Oh good, an earthquake,' and then it got worse and worse,'' he said.

The quake tipped over a band saw and other heavy tools, his 300-gallon outside fuel tank and moved a 150-pound anvil 20 feet across the floor.

He stepped outside and saw the tops of trees whipping 20 to 30 feet back and forth. He said he expected the ground to crack open after a series of 8-inch waves spread out before him.

''They looked like ocean waves,'' he said.

An hour after the quake, aftershocks were still moving the ground every five minutes. Schmoker said he's a big game hunter and usually enjoys short earthquakes.

''A charging brown bear I can handle,'' he said. ''This scared the hell out of me.''

Jay Capps, who owns a small grocery store midway between Tok and Glennallen, said he felt a low-level shaking for 15 or 20 seconds and then two ''good-sized pops'' before the earthquake hit.

He and two other people ran from the store.

''You actually felt the earthquake coming,'' Capps said. ''It shook so bad you could not stand up on the front porch.''

He watched as a five-ton U-haul in the store parking lot sat rocking by itself. ''It sounded like the trees were breaking roots under the ground,'' he said.

Capps' wife, Debbie, was upstairs when the earthquake hit. She grabbed the china hutch and saved it from falling over, but an entertainment center with 26-inch television was destroyed.

Capps said nearly everything fell off store shelves.

''My store smells like liquid smoke, picante sauce and mayonnaise,'' he said.

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