Some roads, oil pipelines re-open after Anchorage earthquake

The only road between Anchorage and Wasilla is heavily damaged. ( Photo: Josh Bierma )

A severe earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale struck southern Alaska on Friday morning at 8:29 AM AST. The quake’s epicenter was just seven miles north of Anchorage, and Alaskans driving to work had their commutes disrupted when powerful seismic waves destroyed buildings, roadways, and electrical infrastructure. This earthquake was the most powerful to strike Alaska since the M7.1 Iniskin earthquake of 2016, which occurred hundreds of miles southwest of Anchorage in the sparsely populated western bank of the Cook Inlet.

The first aftershock, with a magnitude of 5.7 occurred six minutes later, just three miles north of Anchorage, and was followed by dozens of other aftershocks at magnitudes from 5.1 to 1.7. Americans living in the lower 48 states are probably not aware of how seismically active Alaska is—check out the map below, which shows earthquake activity in the state over the past two weeks:

 Seismic activity in Alaska over the previous two weeks. ( Map: Alaska Earthquake Center )
Seismic activity in Alaska over the previous two weeks. ( Map: Alaska Earthquake Center )

Utility companies said that more than 50,000 customers lost power during the day, although that number was already declining as crews restored power. Goods fell off store shelves, ceiling tiles crumbled, and highway ramps collapsed. KTVA’s newsroom—belonging to the local CBS affiliate—was wrecked. Fortunately, no deaths have been reported yet. 

“Make no mistake, this was a big one,” said Senator Dan Sullivan. “Right now the highways in and out of Anchorage, with the exception of one going up north, are cut off and that’s a big problem for us.”

The Alaska Railroad, a Class II railroad, a passenger train with service from Seward north to Anchorage, Denali, and Fairbanks, suspended all operations after “severe” damage at its Anchorage Operations Center. No specific track damage reports have been submitted, but the railroad’s dispatch operations have been disrupted and it will take time for crews to inspect the tracks.

The Anchorage Airport suspended operations temporarily, but is now open to departing and arriving air traffic. 

The Trans Alaska Pipeline System, about 800 miles long, that carries crude oil from the Arctic to maritime terminals in Valdez was restarted after being shut down for seven hours, Bloomberg reported. The pipeline has a 2M bpd capacity, but moved about 530K barrels on Thursday. Michelle Egan, spokeswoman for the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., said that Valdez export terminals were unaffected by the quake. 

The majority of the Alaska, Richardson, Parks, and Glen Highways have been inspected and are passable. A closure on the Glen Highway at Eagle River due to major damage is passable with a detour through Eagle River. Here is a list of current highway damage and road closures.

John Paul Hampstead, Director, Passport Research

John Paul conducts research on multimodal freight markets and holds a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Michigan. Prior to building a research team at FreightWaves, JP spent two years on the editorial side covering trucking markets, freight brokerage, and M&A.

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