Rock & Roll – Mother Nature’s Style

At 09:51 AKDT this (September 25th) morning a magnitude 6.24 earthquake occurred centered 60 miles WSW of Talkeetna at a depth of 62 miles; at that time I just happened to be in a warehouse in Palmer picking out the donated food I would be hauling back to Talkeetna. I was standing on the concrete loading dock when all the overhead doors that were down began to tremble as if being buffeted by a heavy wind. My fellow volunteers and members of the local food banks looked around in stunned silence; for the first 10 seconds no one knew what was happening but very quickly the more experienced folks said; “Earthquake”. About that same time a couple of the warehouse employees raced out doors and headed into the parking lot.

About that same time I felt the heavy concrete floor began to rise and fall in a sine wave motion indicative of the event’s ‘S’ waves; by this time I was already moving to the closest open overhead door so I could stand in the doorway until the tremblor ceased. The entire event last a bit more than 30 seconds and was the most powerful earthquake I’ve yet to experience. In looking over the thickness of that loading dock floor it still boggles my mind that it can actually float and rise and fall in periodicity with the waves from the seismic event. It was a bit disconcerting to watch the faces of the folks with more than 20 years of living in Alaska; to a person there was some fear borne of the concern that this one might be ‘a big one’. From what I can determine this generally means anything at or above a magnitude 7.0 so in this case we were quite a bit short of that threshold. Still and all it was yet another amazing display of Nature’s power.

When I arrived home after dropping off my food at the Pantry I discovered a number of items had been shifted around but no real damage. The event did cause the dual monitor set up on my main system to get knocked askew – no surprise as they are bolted to the wall – and pushed around some items on the desk but that was about the extent of any effects. The large CO2 tank I have in the utility room I use to carbonate a multitude of beverages was still standing just fine but then it is chained to the wall studs just in case something like this takes place. The dogs didn’t seem to be any worse for wear; as I wasn’t at home I didn’t have a chance to see if they showed any response before or during the event. Last November’s magnitude 5.4 just awoke Anana from a sound sleep but Qanuk was sleeping upstairs and while he did come running down to the main room I think that was from the effects of the event rather than some precognition.

Alaska is the most seismically active of the 50 states and in just my thirteen months of living up here I’ve now experienced two events in excess of magnitude 5.3 and a number of smaller tremblors. Being a ‘flat lander’ from Michigan I’d experienced just a couple of very minor earthquakes growing up although while living around 70 miles ENE of Saint Louis I did awaken to a magnitude 4.6 event early one morning. This was the product of the notorious New Madrid fault line which uncorked a real doozey back in the early 1800’s – estimated to have been magnitude 7.1 to 8.0 – which caused the Mississippi River to reverse its flow for a few days. I’d experienced a number of relatively small events in the California Bay Area with most being between magnitude 4.0 and 5.0. My time in the Bay Area did teach me to seek out doorways in the event of a quake and stay away from windows. I guess the training did sink in as once I realized it was indeed an earthquake I immediately looked for a door way.

Earthquakes are a part of life in Alaska and as such most folks just endure them and get on with life. I must admit to being fascinated when I can feel the earth shifting beneath my feet and experience other effects common to fairly powerful seismic events. But I’ve also seen imagery of the damage and destruction even a magnitude 6.4 earthquake can inflict so I am aware of the potential for serious issues from such occurrences. Being ready by knowing safety rules and taking the necessary precautions at home are really about all one can do in preparation for such events. I still must admit I am fascinated by the geology and physics involved in such events and especially of the incredible power of our Mother Earth!