Magnitude-7.1 quake jolts Alaska; 1 home explodes

By MARK THIESSEN
Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A magnitude-7.1 earthquake knocked items off shelves and walls in Alaska early Sunday morning, jolting the nerves of residents in this earthquake-prone region. But there were no immediate reports of injuries.

Alaska’s state seismologist, Michael West, called it the strongest earthquake in the state’s south-central region in decades. Alaska often has larger or more powerful earthquakes, such as a 7.9 last year in the remote Aleutian Islands.

"However, last night’s earthquake is significant because it was close enough to Alaskan’s population centers," West said, adding that aftershocks could continue for weeks.

The earthquake was widely felt by residents of Anchorage. But the Anchorage and Valdez police departments said they have not received any reports of injury or significant damage.

The earthquake struck about 1:30 a.m. Alaska time and was centered 53 miles west of Anchor Point in the Kenai Peninsula, which is about 160 miles southwest of Anchorage, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

One home was extensively damaged and an entire neighborhood was evacuated after a gas leak was reported, Kenai Police Chief Gus Sandahl said Sunday morning. Crews were "definitely still trying to resolve the gas issue," he said nearly eight hours after the earthquake.

The USGS initially reported it as a magnitude 7.1, but downgraded shortly after to magnitude 6.8 before raising it back to 7.1.

"Some earthquakes have challenges associated with them, they are unusual or hard to monitor," West said. "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."

The biggest aftershock Sunday was 4.7, and West said a magnitude 5 or magnitude 6 aftershock is possible.

A shelter was set up at the Kenai Armory for those evacuating their homes, and Sandahl said there were about 20 people there.

Vincent Nusunginya, 34, of Kenai said he was at his girlfriend’s house when the earthquake hit.

"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, director of audience at the Peninsula Clarion newspaper. "It was unsettling. Some things got knocked over, but there was no damage."

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said in a statement Sunday that he was relieved there wasn’t more damage. He urged all Alaskans "to have a response plan prepared for when a major natural disaster occurs."

The hashtag #akquake was trending early Sunday on Twitter, where people were sharing their experiences of the quake and posting photos of items that had fallen off walls and shelves.

There were reports of scattered power outages from the Matanuska Electric Association and Chugach Electric in the Anchorage area. The Homer Electric Association reported on its website that about 4,800 customers were without power early Sunday in the Kenai Peninsula.

The Alaska Department of Transportation reported on its Facebook page that there was road damage near the community of Kasilof, on the Kenai Peninsula.

Andrew Sayers, 26, of Kasilof was watching television when the quake struck.

"The house started to shake violently. The TV we were watching fell over, stuff fell off the walls," he said. "Dishes were crashing, and we sprinted toward the doorway."

Later, he was driving to his mother’s home when he came across a stretch of road that was damaged in the quake.

"We launched over this crack in the road. It’s a miracle we didn’t bust our tires on it," he said.

After reaching his mother’s house, Sayers checked on his grandparents, who live about a mile away.

"No damage, except their Christmas tree fell over," he said.

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Associated Press writers Rashah McChesney in Juneau and Michelle A. Monroe and Tarek Hamada in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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