Fairbanks shook by strongest earthquake in five years

Posted: Thursday, November 30, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Karen Nierenberg realized quickly it wasn't a windstorm rocking the Earthsong Lodge in Healy.

''We get windstorms with winds up to 100 mph here and it shakes the lodge, but this was a different type of shake,'' she said. ''This was an oh-my-God-we've-gotta-get-out-of-here-shake.''

Residents from Cantwell to Fairbanks experienced a wild, one-and-a-half minute ride early Wednesday when they were shaken awake by the strongest earthquake in the Interior in five years.

The temblor, with a magnitude of 5.7, awakened most people in time to feel a 5.5 magnitude aftershock less than a minute later. The quake was centered about 100 miles southwest of Fairbanks and 42 miles west of Healy.

''I was sound asleep and it woke me up,'' said Diane Neill, who lives in one of Nenana's older log cabins. ''I could hear the logs just creaking. I was waiting for the roof to fall in.

''I was here in 1964 and was waiting for it to go on like that one,'' she said, referring to the 9.2 magnitude quake that devastated Alaska and ranks as the second largest of all time. ''I was glad it quit.''

Wednesday's quake was classified as a ''major'' earthquake and was large enough to be recorded at seismograph stations around the world, said Steve Estes, acting state seismologist at the Alaska Earthquake Information Center on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus.

It was the strongest quake to rock the Interior since a 6.2 magnitude earthquake shook Fairbanks on Oct. 5, 1995. That quake's epicenter was about 40 miles north of Fairbanks.

The Alaska Railroad was one of several agencies notified by the Alaska Earthquake Information Center. Maintenance workers inspected the railroad track and any bridges along the track from Eielson Air Force Base south to Denali Park after the quake and found no damage, said railroad spokesman Scott Banks.

Neither was there any sign of the quake's effect at the Usibelli Coal Mine in Healy, said Warren Mattielli, vice president of operations.

''We didn't even tip anything over,'' Mattielli said.

Estes said it took the quake about 30 seconds to travel from west of Healy to Fairbanks, where it hit just after 1:36 a.m. The aftershock came about 40 seconds later, while the initial quake was still rocking residences.

''It was actually two earthquakes,'' Estes said. ''The second one was difficult to measure because it was right in the middle of the first one.''

Wednesday's quake occurred along the same seismic line on which the earthquake five years ago was centered, Estes said. Called the Minto Flats Seismic Zone, it runs from Kantishna to Denali Park to Nenana to Minto.

Fairbanks Mayor Jim Hayes felt all three shakes as he was lying awake in bed wrestling with ways to cut the city budget.

''I had a budget meeting (Tuesday) night and that was on my brain and I couldn't sleep,'' said Hayes. ''It really shook my house. It rocked it.''

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