Most Southeast Alaskans slept through Friday morning’s (7-25-14) magnitude 5.9 earthquake, but there were plenty who didn’t.
KCAW’s Robert Woolsey spoke with a few people around the region who were jolted awake in the wee hours by the quake and its many aftershocks — including some very happy campers.
Hap Leon has spent the past 21 summers in his house in Elfin Cove, just 37 miles to the south and east of the epicenter. His place wasn’t damaged, but he got a bit of a ride.
“I was asleep, and it was five minutes to three and everything was shaking back and forth. It sat me right up in bed. I realized what was going on. After a second I shook myself awake. And I ran downstairs — I’ve got five dogs in the house and they were all upset, pacing around and panting.”
Leon says he was able to check out the Alaska Earthquake Information Center’s website, which put him at ease about the possibility of a tsunami, and then went back to bed.
Some Sitkans, on the other hand, had nothing to rely on but their own wits. Krisanne Rice and her two teenage daughters Mamie and Leone were camped in the Forest Service’s Shelikov Beach cabin, about 15 miles closer to the epicenter of the quake than the city of Sitka, and open to the Pacific Ocean.
I met them at the Starrigavan boat ramp, on their trip home. Rice said the quake reminded her of the January 2013 quake that shook Southeast — it rattled and rumbled for about 15 seconds. She decided to remain in the cabin.
“Well, it was raining out, and dark, and we went back to bed and hoped for the best.”
The 2013 quake was magnitude 7.5, prompted a coastwide evacuation, but did not generate a tsunami.
Shelikov Beach doesn’t have much in the way of high ground to evacuate to.
Rice says that if this quake had been more severe, she might have acted differently.
“If we were shaking for a really, really long time I would think otherwise, because you wouldn’t stand a chance out there, probably.”
Daughters Leone and Mamie Clare took their mom’s stoicism in stride. Leone says she watched for changes in the tide in Shelikov Bay.
“Then mom mentioned, Oh dang! If there’s a tsunami, we’re dead! And I kind of wished she hadn’t, because I was trying not to think about it.”
Mamie, who was sleeping upstairs in the loft, felt the cabin sway and thought it was a bear scratching. “But,” she says, “it would have been a really big bear.”
Nothing was damaged at the Shelikov cabin, according to the three women. Also Elfin Cove came through the quake unscathed, though Hap Leon says there has been one failure.
“I’ve got a neighbor about two houses away who woke up when I did — when the earth started shaking. Actually, what he told me was that Raven Radio went off the air immediately after the earthquake.”
KCAW’s signal is distributed to a number of communities in Southeast Alaska via a satellite uplink in Fairbanks. Part of the signal’s journey is through the Alaska Communications System fiber optic cable — which may have been damaged in the quake.
Engineers have found a workaround to deliver KCAW’s signal temporarily to surrounding communities, but phone and internet service remained spotty throughout the northern panhandle.
One woman I spoke with in Yakutat — a lifelong resident who prefered not to give an interview — said she was awakened during the quake by the clanging of chimes in her house. When she turned on the radio to find out what was going on and heard nothing, she told me, “I was sure you had been washed away.”