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KNBA News - Anchorage sees power outages, little damage from 7.1 quake; Kenai harder hit

Jan. 25, 2016

Quake-related Natural Gas Leaks Lead to Destruction of Four Houses in Kenai

By Joaqlin Estus, KNBA-Anchorage and Jenny Neyman, KDLL-Soldotna

Anchorage and the Mat-Su valley saw power outages but no injuries, deaths, or serious damage from a 7.1 magnitude earthquake that rattled southcentral Alaska just after 1:30 Sunday morning. The Kenai area was harder hit by the quake, which was centered about 60 miles west of Homer.

Scott McBride is a Patrol Sergeant with the Kenai Police Department. He said, “Yes, two houses were burned and two houses were blown up.”

McBride says the fire department had received reports of gas leaks and a residential fire.

“Right after the earthquake we got 911 calls. And they responded to the scene and Enstar [Natural Gas Co.] showed up fairly quickly as well,” said McBride. “When they got there, they had one house that was already on fire. As they were there, the other house caught on fire. Then they had the explosions of the other two.”

Janice Gottschalk lived in one of the houses that was destroyed. She, her fiancée and three kids, ages 12, 10 and 9 got out of the house with only the clothes on their backs.

“About 1:30 a.m. the earthquake hit, and probably about 1:40, 1:45 a.m. I heard my neighbor’s house blow up; the gas blew off the roof,” Gottschalk said. “They thankfully made it out. And then we were all told probably about five minutes later to evacuate our house, as well.”

They went to a friend’s apartment across the street and waited with a dozen people while fire crews attempted to contain the fire. A little before 3 a.m. fire personnel smelled gas leaking at the east end of the street and evacuated more of the neighborhood. Another explosion damaged a second home, and the flames spread. Homes across the street sustained some percussion damage.

“We made it out with everything on our backs; our house is a complete and total loss,” Gottschalk said. “But I’m thanking God that we made it out, thanks to the fire department and the police department.”

MBride says thanks to those precautions, there were no deaths or serious injuries.

“We are very fortunate that we did not have anybody seriously injured or killed down here today,” said McBride. “So, we’re very thankful for that.”

McBride says 35 to 40 homes had their gas shut off and some 60 or 70 people were evacuated:

“We’ve had a lot of the local businesses step up and have provided meals and we had some people who were there without shoes and some of the local merchants brought in shoes for these people,” said McBride. “They’re really shown, it was a good thing to see.

McBride says many evacuees stayed with friends or family or local hotels, and a couple dozen took shelter in the National Guard Armory where the Red Cross provided assistance.

By Sunday evening, Enstar Natural Gas Company had set up temporary gas lines, and cleared most of the homes so residents could return home.

Almost 5-thousand homes in Kenai, Nikiski, and Kasiloff lost power, which Homer Electric Association crews had restored by 8:30 in the morning.

The earthquake also damaged Kalifornsky Beach Road, where one lane of the road is closed.

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Anchorage Shopper Takes Quake in Stride

By Zacharia Hughes, Alaska Public Media- Anchorage

In Anchorage, Portage and the MatSu Valley the earthquake knocked out power to thousands of homes. By midday Sunday, electricity had been restored to all but a handful.

Sunday afternoon, inside the 5th Avenue Mall, just about every store is shuttered and dark.

The quake knocked out the mall's transformer, which is buried under the sidewalk outside. Crews had to dig up the pavement to get to it. Two department stores in the building have a different power source and opened as usual, letting in a steady flow shoppers, including Sue Doherty who arrived outside the dark Apple store in the hopes of getting her phone fixed.

"I've lived her for 25 years,” said Doherty, “so it's not like I'm not used to earthquakes, but this was a biggie."

Doherty lives on the East side, and says when the quake woke her up it wasn't the intensity, but the duration--about half a minute--that unsettled her. Still, she's out running errands because she sees a seismic event like this as par for the course.

"We live in Alaska and things are gonna happen,” said Doherty. “This is an earthquake zone, and we're strong people we can make it."

A short time later, the lights flickered back on in some of the shops. 5th avenue mall stores are expected to be back to normal Monday [today]. 

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