November 30, 2018 was an exciting day. My husband and I were set to leave for Miami to go on our first cruise that evening, our bags were packed and we were ready to soak up some sun with a cocktail. It was smooth sailing on our 15 mile journey into work, traffic was light. My husband dropped me off at 8am and drove across town to his office. Friday mornings are typically quiet at my office, as most people on the top floor where my cubicle is located, work from home. It’s not unusual to see only a handful of cars in the parking lot. This Friday was the same. I was the only person in my area, which meant I could get all of my prep for my week off done without interruption. And then, mid-email, just before 8:30am, the ground began to shake.
In Alaska, earthquakes are a norm. We have countless small earthquakes every day, and had a giant one that destroyed Anchorage back in 1964. I’m from California, so I grew up training for the ‘big one’. Despite them being such a common occurrence in my life, a fairly large shaker a few years prior really shook me to the core and since, I’ve had a harder time calming down after one. Typically my office building feels like it’s rocking and swaying during an earthquake, but this time I knew immediately something was different. My training told me to get under my desk, this is a big one. I cowered under my desk, hands covering my neck and head the way I was taught growing up as the building shook, not rolled, violently. I thought the ceiling was going to come crashing down on top of me. The lights went out, the building roared. I remember yelling ‘STOP! STOP!’ as if I could will it into submission.
When the shaking finally ceased, I felt very in control–I grabbed my phone, purse, and coat, and ran across the building to a coworker who I knew had been at work that morning. Instead of taking cover, she had been so petrified that she froze, and had sat at her desk as light fixtures and ceiling tiles fell around her. We grabbed our things and I followed her down the stairwell, both of us crying, me cursing at the cracked walls of the stairwell. Once out the front doors, I immediately called my father who lives a few hours south of Anchorage, relieved when he answered immediately. My husband and I have been together for 7.5 years, you’d think I’d have called him first, but in my state of terror, I needed my dad. My husband and I spoke briefly after that, he was unable to return to his building, so he was headed to get me so that we could get home to check our house and dogs. I couldn’t get a hold of my mother, she’s a school teacher and they must have evacuated. My brother was fine. My husband’s family was texting back and forth. The ground shook again, everyone’s phones screamed with a tsunami warning.
We were all sent home, not knowing the extent of the damage to the office. They advised us to stay off of bridges, not yet know to what extent they were damaged after the 7.0 earthquake. My husband didn’t listen, he wanted to get to me as quickly as possible and get home. Our 15 mile drive home took nearly three hours as everyone fled Anchorage. We made countless phone calls and sent numerous texts to friends and family checking on them. Two friends were able to get to our home before we could, our dogs were alive, but we were told ‘not gonna lie, your house was hit hard’.
There was glass everywhere, a rare dish or frame remained in its cupboard or on the wall. The refrigerator had lost all of its contents into the open freezer drawer. Glass jars from the pantry spilled their contents all over the kitchen and dining room floors. Bathroom mirrors had torn themselves out of studs. Shelving had dumped contents and then slammed themselves to the floor. The Christmas tree remained standing, comically.
And cracks. Cracks everywhere.
And why can’t we open the back door?
And why is the floor sloping on this side of the house?
My husband wanted me to take the dogs and leave, but this was our home, our first home, and I couldn’t just leave it. I cleaned for six straight hours, while my husband busied himself checking utilities. Waves of emotion poured over both of us, sadness, anger, determination, and terror with aftershocks.
State assistance became available quickly, and we’ve applied along with thousands of others, but have not yet been contacted. The State of Alaska has submitted documentation for a federal disaster declaration, but we haven’t heard anything yet. We found, that like most other Alaskan’s–we did not have earthquake insurance due to enormous deductibles. The municipality has inspected our home and placarded it with a yellow warning, that we have restricted use of our home due to the foundation sinking. Engineers have evaluated and given rough estimates for correction of the foundation, $50,000 to $75,000. We purchased our home only a few years ago, and do not have much equity in it yet. State and federal assistance will help cover some, but not all of that, and we still have the damage inside of our home to deal with as well.
The cracked walls serve as daily reminders that at any moment, your whole world could fall out beneath you. Every aftershock has us thinking it’s the last. It is surreal, and frustrating, and expensive. We had felt like we were finally going to be able to get ahead, and now we are looking at trying to find loans to help cover repairs, or worse, weighing at what cost it’s just easier to hand the keys back over to the bank.
We are so thankful that everyone survived this, but many, like us, might not be able to financially survive this. So we find ourselves here, begging for any assistance that might help make our home whole again.