Friday, January 14, 2011


Ray Gano recently sent out a news article regarding the possibility of the New Madrid earthquake fault becoming active and producing at least one major earthquake some time in the future..
Here is the link to that article if you missed it.

You can’t ‘prepare’ for a major earthquake. In a tornado or hurricane there will be some warnings that a tornado might be going to hit, but an earthquake provides no advance warning. I wanted to give you all a few of my thoughts on an earthquake.

I lived in Anchorage Alaska on March 27, 1964. It was Good Friday, and my parents were going to take us to the movie! Then – the earth started to shake.

Living in Alaska, we had been through smaller earthquakes, and they were nothing to get excited about. However, this earthquake was different in that it just kept on shaking. In fact it shook officially for around 5 minutes and is now counted as being a 9.2 magnitude quake. My family agrees that the ground didn’t actually stand still for a while after that. It was like the land was sitting on top of a bowl of Jell-O, and it just kept ‘jiggling’.

All of my family were in the same place when the quake began, so that was a wonderful blessing. Something very important would be that every family has a designated meeting place if a disaster of any kind should happen. Cell phones will be jammed and calls will be almost impossible to get through. When we lived in Texas just a major thunderstorm would pretty much make cell phones useless because everyone was trying to call family members and warn them or make sure they were aware of the approaching storm. After an earthquake, it might be hours before a call could get through, and that is supposing towers are still standing. A set meeting place would at least put worry to rest as soon as everyone could get there. You might want to have a secondary meeting place as well.

When the big earthquake hit Anchorage, Alaska, we only had a few high rise buildings, although there were a lot of people there. There were 2 military bases located at Anchorage as well. I don’t really remember, but I am sure both bases were put on alert, and at least key military personal were called in immediately. There was a new apartment building almost finished, and it was destroyed. A new department store was destroyed. And, many of the streets downtown sort of dropped down thirty feet or so. Mud spewed up in other places.

The loss of life from the actual earthquake itself was small, but lives were lost unnecessarily after the quake was over. People were afraid the city would burn because of ruptured gas lines. There were some fires, but nothing along in the scale of what could have happened. In areas of greater population, I am sure fires would be a very real danger in most places. If there are natural gas shutoff valves in your home they probably need to be turned off immediately, even if it means being without heat. Also, if it smells like there is a gas leak and you cannot shut it off, leave the house. If you are expecting someone to meet you there, wait for them outside, or at least leave a note warning them of the possible gas leak, and tell them where you are going to be. Also be careful of any downed power lines.

At that time Alaska was largely populated by people of an independent mind set. Many households had extra food on hand just in case the weather was really bad and they didn’t want to go to the grocery store. Many also had food on hand because it was the middle of the cold war, and we lived on what might have been considered the frontier. There was always talk of problems arising with Russia, and most people took it as a reasonable precaution to have extra food stored.

While the ground did crack open, no one was killed from falling into a crack. At least one family had their house slide off a bluff into the ocean. The house floated until the people were rescued.

Water was a problem for some people.
The main loss of life came from tidal waves. Tidal waves hit areas far outside of Alaska and Canada. Here is a quote from speaking of the Alaska earthquake.
‘Elsewhere: Twelve people were killed by the tsunami in Crescent City, California, while four children were killed on the Oregon coast at Beverly Beach State Park.[6] Other towns along the U.S. Pacific Northwest and Hawaii were damaged. Minor damage to boats reached as far south as Los Angeles.
As the entire planet vibrated as a result of the quake, minor effects were felt worldwide. Several fishing boats were sunk in Louisiana, and water sloshed in wells in Africa.[7]’
Something very important to take note of is that even though an earthquake may not have hit your area, you may be in danger. Tidal waves just seem to pop up everywhere, hundreds and even thousands of miles away. Also, in the New Madrid earthquakes 200 years ago, apparently the Mississippi River actually ran backwards, so I can only imagine the damage done with that. So, even if you don’t live near an ocean, you want to be careful of any large water bodies in your area if there is an earthquake.

Considering the magnitude of the Alaska earthquake, the damage in Anchorage was small, but it would have been much greater in areas of greater population. Also, buildings in Alaska have been built to withstand earthquakes, where buildings in many parts of the world are not built with any thought of an earthquake.

In the Alaska earthquake, even if people had wanted to leave the area, there was nowhere to go because there are only two roads out of Anchorage. They both fork eventually, but they also all dead end except the Alaska Highway which goes through Canada. Also, roads and bridges were all damaged. It wasn’t really safe to go anywhere immediately. That is a likely scenario in any major earthquake. A bridge may still be standing, but it may not be structurally safe. Also entire sections of a road may be under water or just dropped down many feet if the earthquake fault slip went all the way to the surface.

After the quake stopped, Mom cleaned up the broken glass. We kids tried to locate our pet goldfish on the floor and get them back in some sort of water before they died. Then we went outside to find our dog and cat. Then, Dad put us all in the car as soon as he had smoked two packs of cigarettes, and we went to the hospital because a good friend was in the hospital having just had a serious operation. (Mom refused to stay home alone because she was afraid of an aftershock.) Dad thought if the hospital was damaged he would have to try to dig his friend out. I guess a lot of other people had the same idea because the parking lot was full. There were guys all over the place carrying whatever tools they thought would be helpful. Fortunately the hospital was fine and dad’s friend was fine as well. They let dad into the hospital to check on his friend and see if he needed anything. The friend’s wife was with him, so that was a relief as well. One more friend was checked off as being alright. Then the police asked us to all go home.

What happened at our house next was a lot of friends came over because they all thought my mom was the best cook when there was no electricity. Besides we had a gas cook stove hooked to a propane bottle. Dad had checked for gas leaks and found none, so we were good to go in that area. Several friends stayed a couple of days at our house..

Then there is the problem of getting word to family members outside the area of what has happened. My parent’s families in the Southern USA went through about a week of worry before mom was able to get word to them. I don’t know why phone service took so long to be restored. My grandparents didn’t have a phone, so mom had to call someone else to get word to them.

Most of you reading this already have some sort of disaster plan that I am sure includes having food, water, medicine, tools, and many other things on hand.

No matter how remote the chance of an earthquake in your area may be, it would be a good idea to decide what to do if an earthquake hit while you were in places like home, work, car, church, and any other place you seem to find yourself on a regular basis. Move away from windows if possible. Of course you would never get into an elevator in any type of disaster. Make a note of how to get home without crossing major bridges. Think of the water in your area and consider the possibility of flooding or tidal waves. Also, consider any dams in the area and what areas would flood if the dams break.

I think the thing that stayed on the minds of most people after the earthquake was the number of people who drowned in tidal waves. They call them tsunamis now, but it is the same thing – a massive wall of water that just comes in fast and takes everything out to sea that it touches.

Now it seems that in earthquakes people are left trapped in the rubble.
In Anchorage I don’t think any houses collapsed. Our house was just an old house sitting on a concrete block foundation. The foundation cracked. No windows broke. Nothing really happened except stuff fell out of cabinets and a lot of glass was broken. The fish bowls all fell over. I don’t know what would happen now in neighborhoods where most homes are single level. It probably would depend on how well built the homes were in the first place.

I put a small whistle on my husband’s key chain to use in case he is ever trapped somewhere. Ok, I actually put it there in case he ever gets lost in the woods, or breaks his leg when he is out hunting or something like that. If you live or work in a multilevel building, a whistle for your key chain is something you might want to think about. (When my husband goes hunting he has to wear a ‘necklace’ I made for him that has a good compass, a container of waterproof matches, and a big whistle.)

Government response is never going to be adequate, especially in the first days after a disaster of any kind. You will be on your own! Hopefully you have a support group to help deal with whatever happens. Of course family is ideally the best and first support group, but good friends area a help as well. In any situation, you will probably just have to sort of ‘wing it’, or do what seems to best suit the situation immediately and the situation as it changes.

We all want to be as prepared for any disaster as possible, without letting ‘preparedness’ become an obsession. An earthquake is just another potential disaster. It brings with it some of the aftermath of most disaster, along with a few additional problems like tsunamis, craters, damage to all road systems, and so on. It is a good idea to give some consideration to how you and your family would deal with a major earthquake if one did occur. An earthquake of that magnitude was not what we were expecting in Alaska all those years ago. We were expecting Russian jets to violate our air space one time to many and be the start of an atomic war. (We had a partial bomb shelter under the house by the furnace. Every time we kids got to loud, Dad made us go under the house and dig out more dirt so we would have more space to sit around and wait to die of radiation poisoning if an atomic attack ever came. With those Communists, you just couldn’t really tell.)

I think it helps to enjoy today if you have made some preparation for an unexpected and/or unpleasant event in the future. Then you have some sort of idea of where to start, what may or may not be possible, and what it will take to cope. That is about the best you can do for an unknown. Our bomb shelter really didn’t help one bit in the earthquake. But the food mom had stored, and her ability to adapt to the situation were both helpful.

Have a good day.

Barbara Henderson