Quake jolts Anchorage, Alaska, but damage minimal

June 22, 2009 6:44:51 PM PDT
A strong earthquake jolted Alaska's most populous region Monday, sending residents and office workers diving under desks and huddling in doorways but causing almost no damage. The U.S. Geological Survey said the 5.4 magnitude temblor struck about 24 miles from the town of Willow at 11:28 a.m. The rumbling lasted several moments in Anchorage, 58 miles from the epicenter, and was felt as far south as Kenai and north to Fairbanks, a span of 300 miles.

"Things were swinging pretty good and shaking, like pictures on the wall, bottles rattling - and my blood pressure went up at least 20 points," said Pam Rannals, a bartender in Talkeetna, about 30 miles from the epicenter. "We had bears in the parking lot last night and now the earthquake. Those are the talk of the town."

No damage other than fallen dishes has been reported anywhere, and Rannals said even the liquor bottles at her workplace stayed put.

Gov. Sarah Palin noted the earthquake on her Twitter account. "All shook up ... thankful there are no reports of injury or damage," she wrote.

The quake was 26 miles deep, a reason for both the minimal damage and the vast area over which it was felt, according to Janet Herr, an employee fielding many of the calls residents were making to the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center.

Anchorage has about 285,000 residents, most of the vast state's population.

Still, Monday's widely felt earthquake was enough to force a nervous pause among residents. At the Anchorage office of the National Wildlife Federation, even the office dog, Oliver, trembled and wagged his tail slowly.

Office manager Heather McGee watched as her cup of tea shook near her keyboard. "I'm unscathed, but my tea spilled," she said.

The tsunami center reported the magnitude at a slightly weaker 5.3 and said no tsunami was generated. Aftershocks shook the area, with one around noon measuring 4.0.

The earthquake was 70 miles west of the 800-mile trans-Alaska oil pipeline and operations were not affected, said Katie Pesznecker, a spokeswoman for Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. The pipeline, which carries about 715,000 barrels of crude daily, is designed to withstand magnitudes as high as 8.5, she said.

Two unrelated quakes measuring 5.6 and 5.4 struck later in Alaska's remote western Aleutian Islands more than 1,000 miles to the southwest. There were no reports they caused any damage, said Natasha Ruppert, a seismologist at the Alaska Earthquake Information Center.

Alaska is seismically active, and has frequent earthquakes although most are too small or too remote to be felt. The last one that measured stronger was a 5.8 in southern Alaska on Jan. 24.

Monday's earthquakes had nothing to do with Mount Redoubt, Alaska's most active volcano with a series of explosions earlier this year. Dave Schneider, a geophysicist at the Alaska Volcano Observatory, said the volcano's seismic instruments more than 100 miles from the epicenter picked up the Willow temblor, which he enjoyed from his Anchorage office.

"I thought it was kind of fun, but I'm like that," he said.

Alaska is the site of the biggest earthquake recorded in North America - a magnitude-9.2 quake on Good Friday 1964 that struck 75 miles east of Anchorage on Prince William Sound. The quake and the ensuing tsunami killed 115 people in Alaska and 16 people in California.

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