Early Sunday morning, Alaska was rocked by a 7.1-magnitude earthquake. The U.S. Geological Survey says the quake’s epicenter was near Cook Inlet, 162 miles southwest of Anchorage.
Many residents used to smaller earthquakes captured the earthquake on video.
Michael West, Alaska’s state seismologist, hasn’t seen an earthquake this powerful in the state’s south-central region for decades. The earthquake was first reported as a 7.1-magnitude but later downgraded to a magnitude of 6.8 before USGS changed it back to a 7.1.
“However, last night’s earthquake is significant because it was close enough to Alaska’s population centers. Some earthquakes have challenges associated with them, they are unusual or hard to monitor. This is neither of them. Southern Alaska is well instrumented, and this earthquake is of the style and type that we would expect in this area.”
He expects several aftershocks of magnitude-5 or magnitude-6 over the next few weeks. A 7.9-magnitude earthquake occurred last year near a largely uninhabited region of the Aleutian Islands.
Many in Anchorage, the largest city near the epicenter, felt the tremor shake the ground about 1:30 a.m. As reported by Fox News, the tremor took place about 50 miles deep, so there was no danger from a tsunami impact.
Local police did not report any major damage or injuries.
No reports of major damage or injury following earthquake felt in Anchorage. No threat of tsunami to Anchorage residents— APD Public Info. (@APDInfo) January 24, 2016
Vincent Nusunginya was rattled by the quake but not hurt.
“It started out as a shaking and it seemed very much like a normal earthquake. But then it started to feel like a normal swaying, like a very smooth side-to-side swaying,” said Nusunginya, who works at the Peninsula Clarion newspaper. “It was unsettling. Some things got knocked over, but there was no damage.”
Professional photographer Joshua Veldstra, who lives in Homer, Alaska, says the earthquake lasted at least 30 seconds, if not longer.
“When it hit, it was just soft at first, and it just kept getting bigger,” Veldstra said. “It was one of those moments where you didn’t’ know if it was going to get worse or if it was going to calm down.”
On the Kenai Peninsula, the earthquake broke gas lines, causing four houses to catch fire. One home where Vinnie Calderon and his family lived exploded not once, but twice. He had just moved into the house two weeks ago.
Calderon says after the first tremor, he smelled gas, but the odor quickly went away. However, as everyone was settling down to go back to bed, the house shook and raised off the ground.
Calderon’s home and one other were completely destroyed by the explosions. Two other homes were engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived. Kenai battalion chief Tony Prior said even though the second explosion was quite severe, no one was hurt.
The gas utility company examined the remaining homes in the neighborhood Sunday afternoon to determine if it was safe enough for residents to return.
Matanuska Electric Association and Chugach Electric reported sporadic power outages through the Anchorage area. Early Sunday in the Kenai Peninsula, 4,800 homes were without power.
Chugach Electric says few thousand customers w/o power. To report ur power outage please call 762-7888, and not APD. Unless u have emergency— APD Public Info. (@APDInfo) January 24, 2016
Alaska Governor Bill Walker is grateful the earthquake was not more devastating. He reminded residents to always have an emergency plan in place to prepare for such natural disasters.
The area of Alaska where the 7.1 earthquake struck is within a region known by seismologists as the “ring of fire.” Kelly Sonnenburg of the Weather Network says earthquakes commonly occur here due to slippage along the fault line between the Pacific and North American tectonic plates.
After the 7.1 earthquake struck Sunday, two smaller aftershocks hit the area, one at 4.0 and the other at 3.2. The last time Anchorage experienced seismic activity this powerful was in March 1964 when a 9.2-magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami killed 130 people.
[Photo by Mark Thiessen/AP]