Earthquake damages roads, aftershocks rattle Alaska

Posted: Monday, November 04, 2002

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- Aftershocks continued to rattle Alaska's Interior Monday and crews worked to repair highways left with huge gaps from the powerful earthquake that rocked the state.

The magnitude 7.9 quake hit at 1:13 p.m. Alaska Time (5:13 p.m. EST) Sunday. It was centered in a sparsely populated area 90 miles south of Fairbanks and was felt throughout much of the state.

The quake cracked highways and roads, triggered rock slides, shook houses, knocked over fuel tanks and prompted the closure of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

Crews with the state Department of Transportation worked through the night to make temporary repairs to roads, some of which had gaps up to eight feet deep and six feet wide. By Monday morning the Parks Highway and Richardson Highway had been reopened.

Only one minor injury was reported; a woman suffered a broken arm when she fell down the stairs as she tried to leave her home.

Engineers were working Monday to assess damage to the trans-Alaska oil pipeline about 60 miles from the epicenter. The pipe did not break and no oil spilled, but the quake damaged some of the brackets that hold the 48-inch pipe above ground, leaving the pipeline suspended.

Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. spokesman Mike Heatwole said Monday morning it was too soon to know when the pipeline would resume moving oil.

''Anything I would give you now is speculation,'' he said.

The company spent the night moving equipment into place and crews in the morning began work on cribs to alleviate stress on the pipe where supports were damaged.

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 worst reports of damage were along a two-mile stretch of the Tok Cutoff, which leads from the Alaska Highway to Southcentral highways connected to Anchorage. There were hundreds of yards of 6-foot openings in the road and numerous rock slides.

Residents of the area 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 its 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 in them.

Jay Capps, who owns a small grocery store near Tok, 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 5-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 said nearly everything fell off store shelves.

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

The earthquake was the second major episode in Interior Alaska in the last two weeks. A magnitude 6.7 earthquake centered about 30 miles southeast of Denali National Park hit at 3:27 a.m. Oct. 23.

Aftershocks continued to rattle Alaska Monday and officials with the Alaska Earthquake Information Center in Fairbanks said residents could expect to feel aftershocks for the next several days before the magnitude decreases substantially. The largest aftershock measured 5.1 and there were four measuring 4.5 to 4.7. All of the aftershocks were centered in roughly the same area of Interior Alaska.

In Seattle, some houseboats on Lake Union shook loose from their moorings during the earthquake more than 1,400 miles to the north. Power was cut off to one houseboat, and others slammed into docks. The Center for Wooden Boats on the lake's south shore was shaken off its sewage pipe, leaving it without a working bathroom. No one was hurt.

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