By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
Alaska, which sits atop the Pacific Rim of Fire, is no stranger to earthquakes large and small. Over the past five years, Alaska has experienced more than 30 earthquakes with magnitudes of 6.0 or greater.
Between August 6 and August 21, 2017, the state experienced 1,115 quakes, most recently at 6:01 a.m. local time on August 21. The quake registered a weak 1.6 and was centered 25 miles west of Tatitlek, a tiny town of 88 residents on the southeastern coast of the state.
The strongest quake so far this month registered 5.3 on August 8. It was centered 40 miles south of Nikolski in the Aleutians, a chain of small islands that extends from the Alaskan mainland in a westward curve into the Bering Sea.
Nikolski is even smaller than Tatitlek. It has a mere 18 residents evenly divided between males and females.
“In a state known for magnitude 8 and 9 earthquakes, it is easy to grow complacent about smaller earthquakes. However, moderate-to-strong earthquakes happening near cities and towns pose serious dangers to people and infrastructure,” says the Alaska Earthquake Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
“Alaska’s largest earthquakes, exceeding magnitude 8 and even 9, occur primarily in the shallow part of the subduction zone, where the crust of the Pacific Plate sticks and slips past the overlying crust,” the AEC explains.
“Examples of this type of earthquake include the 1964 magnitude 9.2 Good Friday Earthquake and the 1965 magnitude 8.7 Rat Islands Earthquake, the second and eighth largest earthquakes ever recorded worldwide.”
But even a small earthquake nearby can be just as destructive as a large earthquake far away, warns the Center. The AEC records an earthquake every 15 minutes and in 2014recorded an all-time high of more than 40,000 earthquakes in Alaska.
Most Alaskans Will Survive the Next Major Earthquake
“Most Alaskans will survive the next big earthquake with little loss,” the AEC says, although some people could be severely affected. “There is no place in Alaska where people do not have to think about earthquake safety. Dangerous earthquakes have happened all over the state.”
By understanding the risks and learning how to prepare for an earthquake, Alaskans can save their homes and families, and reduce property losses.
The Alaska Earthquake Center suggests the following steps, which apply also to quakes that strike the Lower 48 states:
- Practice "drop, cover and hold on."
- Know your evacuation route.
- Identify the safest places to take shelter, away from heavy furniture, windows and mirrors, and bookshelves.
- Select a safe place for your family to meet after an earthquake along with an alternative location.
- Designate an out-of-the-area telephone contact, such as a friend or relative, to receive information about your family. All family members should carry this phone number at all times.
- Make sure every family member knows how to turn off the gas in your home. Keep an appropriate wrench near the valve at all times.
- Talk to your children's school about their disaster policy.
- Arrange with neighbors to watch out for your family and property in case you are not at home.
In expectation of an earthquake, tsunami or any large-scale emergency, the AEC recommends having the following supplies on hand to last at least seven days:
- Flashlights with spare batteries
- Crank or battery-operated radio
- First aid kit
- Fire extinguisher
- Week's supply of non-perishable food and juice
- Three gallons of water per person
- Clothes, blankets and sleeping bags for subzero weather
- Tools, especially for turning off gas and water