Witness report of the 2002 Alaska 7.9 earthquake. Read my witness of the quake.

  1. Remembering the 2002 Alaska 7.9 Earthquake
  2. What Was Like Witnessing the 2002 Alaska 7.9 Earthquake
  3. The Waves Were Undistinguishable
  4. A 5.3 Follow-Up Earthquake and More Quakes
  5. After the Quake
  6. A 5.3 Follow-Up Earthquake and More Quakes
  7. A Big Quake Is No Reason for Envy


Remembering the 2002 Alaska 7.9 Earthquake

Whenever, I hear news about a major quake like, for instance, the 2014 6.1 earthquake in the Nappa Valley, or the 2018 Anchorage earthquake, the news hit me in the face. Such news remind me of the 2002 earthquakes in Alaska. Back then we had a 6.3 earthquake, and 7.9 quake followed a couple of days later. As if the 2002 Alaska quake had been yesterday, I still remember when with a sudden the earthquake hit. It was lunch time, and we were sitting at our oak table eating pan fried pumpkin with hashed beef. We immediately jumped underneath the table, one of our cats run into the garage (to hide under the car as we found out later).


What Was Like Witnessing the 2002 Alaska 7.9 Earthquake

The house we lived in had the typical American arrangement that the kitchen goes over into the dining and living room. Thus, from underneath the table I could see my iron pan – a gift from my late father – swinging on its hook that was hanging on a roast. The pan was swinging about 25 cm (9.8 inch) back and forth. Looking at that the thought hit that I could use this to calculate the energy. I was too busy with the earthquake to follow thru.

We heard the house making noise as if you twist a wooden box to destroy it. With a sudden, I realized that I could not distinguish the typical three waves. I said to my husband “That p-wave seems to last for ever.” P-wave is the term for primary wave, i.e. the wave that you feel first as it travels the fastest. It is a longitudinal wave that means the waves travel parallel to the direction of the wave energy. Thus, they are compressional waves. “Yep, seems to be very close” he responded.


The Waves Were Undistinguishable

We could not feel a pause between the P-, the S-, and the surface waves. S-waves are physically speaking shear waves. They are the second to be seen on an earthquake seismogram, or felt, after the P-waves went thru. The S-waves travel less fast in rock than the P-waves. The third type of wave I was referring to were the surface waves. They travel less fast than the S-waves.

There are two types of surfaces waves called Love waves and Rayleigh waves. The latter travel horizontally and vertically in their direction of propagation like rolling ocean waves. The former are shear waves like the S-wave, and move the ground from side to side in a horizontal plane. This movement is especially damaging to the foundations of buildings.


After the Quake

After 2.5 minutes or so the “show” was over. We crawled from underneath the table. My husband went outside into the double digit below temperatures without even taking a coat to inspect whether the house was still on its foundation or had any damages. I first checked on the cats. Celestina was under the car in the garage and my late Kasimir was hiding under the bed. Then I inspected the inside of the house for damages. We were lucky. Not even a book had fallen out of the shelves.

My husband came back in, inspected the well and we finished lunch. “That was a pretty big one, much stronger than the 6.3 the other day” he said. “Let’s hope it was the major one and we will only have after quakes. I doubt that the house will stand something much stronger than this.” I answered. He nodded. We had a coffee.


A 5.3 Follow-Up Earthquake and More Quakes

My husband just had entered the restroom when another 5.3 quake hit. I shouted thru the noise “stay where you are” picked up Celestina who seemed to be undecided whether to run for the bed or the car, went back under the table, and watched that iron pan.

We had weeks of after-shakes. People felt pretty annoyed. We did not leave bed for a 4 pointer. It can be scary when a 7.1 earthquake kills your sleep.


A Big Quake Is No Reason for Envy

The most shocking thing for us, however, was when at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco, a couple of weeks later some Geophysicists form Germany seemed even to envy us having been in such an earthquake.


Photos: G. Kramm

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