On Friday, Nov. 30, a 7.0 quake struck near Anchorage, Alaska - one of the strongest to hit the area in decades. KFI's Steve Gregory was sent to Alaska to cover the aftermath of the quake.
This is his account of the last three days.
I got a call Friday afternoon that I was being sent to Anchorage, but it appeared the airport was closed because of potential damage to the runway and the tower. My news director, Chris Little, and I decided it was best to fly into Fairbanks, rent an SUV, and drive 7 hours to Anchorage, despite many road closures. The first available outbound flight was 7:25 PM with a layover in Seattle - estimated arrival in Fairbanks was 2:21 AM local time.
When I arrived at the airport, I got an alert that the Anchorage airport had reopened and was receiving flights. I immediately called our travel department and asked for them to reroute me back to Anchorage. They told me it was doubtful, but they would try. You know that scene in movies where there’s someone always on their phone through security, running down the terminal, and onto the plane? Yeah, that was me.
About 2.5 hours later I landed in Seattle; it was raining, and we were stopped on the apron. The airport was crowded and didn’t have an open gate. The Anchorage closure caused a lot of problems at some other airports. We boarded a bus and were taken to a terminal. I checked my phone, and thankfully my flight was changed to Anchorage instead of Fairbanks. Of course, my connection was in a different terminal, and I had 11 minutes before boarding. Oh, and I found out it was too late for my luggage to be transferred, so it was headed to Fairbanks.
I tried to get some sleep on the plane (3.5-hour flight), but it was cramped, and the woman in the center row was fidgety, had to grab her bag every 15 minutes and kept the reading light on for the whole flight.
We finally touched down in Anchorage at around 2:25 AM Saturday. I picked up the rental SUV and headed to my hotel. I couldn’t see any evidence of the earthquake along the way, though I found out later that a major road in and out of the airport was severely damaged.
This ominous button is in the elevator at my hotel
My hotel is in midtown, and after I checked-in, I sat up my gear and recorded some stories for KFI and our iHeartMEDIA networks. I finally collapsed onto the bed and fell asleep. About 15 minutes later one hell of an aftershock struck and woke me up. It was a heavy rolling aftershock, and I’m on the top floor, so there was a lot of swaying back and forth. After I calmed down a bit, I went back to sleep, but a few minutes later another aftershock struck. It went on like that for most of the morning.
I finally got up and checked on my luggage at the airport. It hadn’t arrived yet. Fortunately, I carry an extra shirt in my gear bag (albeit, a t-shirt). So, I got ready and headed to our affiliate station here in Anchorage. The team here is great, and they were working hard to keep the city informed. They asked me to attend the morning briefing at the emergency operations center.
Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz
The officials in the city government are very professional and very organized. I was impressed with the way they handled the briefing. I know some agencies in LA that could use a lesson or two from these folks. I did a one on one with the Mayor and packed up.
After the briefing, I interviewed a couple of women and their children who were at a nearby playground. They seemed unphased by the whole thing. The women told me what it was like to experience a 7.0 quake, with small kids. They seemed pretty scared but calm through the whole thing.
As I drove around Anchorage I saw no obvious evidence of damage, but I saw a few businesses that closed, but this is on a Saturday so it could be a normal weekend closure. I did see some road crews and officials checking out some places.
Some local businesses were affected by the quake
I filed some more stories and grabbed a bite to eat with the company’s local programming executive. Come to find out we worked together in the same town in Colorado at the same time and didn’t realize it. It truly is a small world. I got a call from Alaska Airlines…my luggage arrived, whew!
Debris from ceiling tiles in my hotel
It’s around 3:50 PM, and it’s already dark outside. I went back to the EOC for the 4:30 PM briefing. This darkness at 4:00 o’clock thing is kinda freaking me out. After the briefing, I grabbed dinner and headed back to the hotel to file more stories.
iHeartMedia’s Anchorage cluster is located in this mall – business as usual
Residents were told to boil water as a precaution
The aftershocks were still happening but at longer intervals. I was looking forward to getting some sleep! I crashed at around 11:30 PM local time and fell asleep. BOOM!!!...another aftershock. It ended up being a 4.7. Here we go again. I am used to aftershocks but not this many in a row. I can’t imagine how the residents are coping, especially those with children.
Tried to take a nap but this happened
I did get in a few hours of good sleep. I decided to maximize the minimum amount of daylight and head out onto the freeways to check on the progress of road repairs. I drove up the Alaskan Highway 1 to Wasilla. I saw at least four areas of major construction. Crews had been working overnight to clear large chunks of broken asphalt and repave the road, despite freezing temps.
I also drove south on the Seward highway. What a beautiful drive along the water. There was some construction at 2 points along the way. It appeared crews were ahead of schedule.
I returned to my hotel with began working on more stories for KFI and our network. In anticipation of a big snowstorm, I decided to order Chinese food and stay in all night. But, I do want to have some grilled salmon while I’m here.
It’s Monday, 4 AM local time, and time to get ready for my live hit with Jennifer Jones-Lee on Wake Up Call. It kinda sucks that I’m an hour behind LA…lol. I’ll be on with Gary and Shannon and with Conway later tonight.
If all goes as planned, I should be on a plane tomorrow morning headed home.
Photos: Steve Gregory