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What do Alaska’s earthquakes mean for Whatcom? Stay prepared, says WWU professor

Road collapses in Anchorage following Alaska earthquake

An earthquake shook Anchorage, Alaska, and the surrounding region on the morning of November 30, registering magnitude 7. This footage is described as showing damage to a road near Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.
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An earthquake shook Anchorage, Alaska, and the surrounding region on the morning of November 30, registering magnitude 7. This footage is described as showing damage to a road near Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

Friday’s earthquakes that rocked Alaska do not have a direct connection to the fault lines near Whatcom County, but it does serve as a reminder about the importance of being prepared.

That’s the message from Jackie Caplan-Auerbach, a professor in the geology department at Western Washington University. She spent five years in Alaska studying seismic activity at the Alaska Volcano Observatory before coming to Western in 2006.

While earthquakes are not uncommon in Alaska, the quakes measuring 7.0 and 5.7 just north of Anchorage Friday morning do have unusual aspects that will give seismologists new information worth studying, Caplan-Auerbach said in an interview Friday.

The location of the quakes near Anchorage is a little unusual, but what caught Caplan-Auerbach’s eye on Friday afternoon was the video posts online showing it happening. The shaking lasted up to 45 seconds in some videos, an impressive length of time for a quake that size, she said.

What also impressed Caplan-Auerbach in watching the videos was the number of people taking cover, particularly getting under desks or tables. Most injuries and deaths during earthquakes come from things falling on people, she said.

“Hopefully this serves as a reminder to people about the importance of preparation,” she said, adding that other things to do include securing furniture around the home, particularly large bookshelves and appliances. The Federal Emergency Management Agency also has a list of ways to prepare for earthquakes on its website.

With several converging fault lines in the Cascadia subduction zone, this region regularly has small temblors. On Friday there was a 2.5 earthquake about five miles south of Mount Vernon, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The last major quake in this region was the Nisqually earthquake in 2001, which was a magnitude 6.8.

What wasn’t unusual about the Alaska quakes was the size or the strong aftershock, Caplan-Auerbach said. She expects more aftershocks in the region, something that could go on for months.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269; @BhamHeraldBiz.
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