It was 8am on November 30, 2018. My husband had left for a California business trip three days earlier and was coming home that day. I was excited to have him back and relieved. Two of the three kids and myself had battled the stomach flu while he was gone. We had slept in since we were still recovering. The kids were talking in their bedroom so I began slowly getting ready for the day. I was in the bathroom when it started. A sound so loud I had no idea what was happening, and a shake that I’d never experienced before. It was 8:29am. And as I ran terrified from my bathroom to the kids’ room, it slowly dawned on me that we were experiencing an earthquake.
Realizing We Were in an Earthquake
When I first heard the sound and shake, I had no idea what it was. My first thought was that someone had bombed the base which is a little over 30 miles from our house. Then I began to wonder if maybe someone had crashed into our house. About halfway to the kids’ bedroom I was thrown against the wall by the violent shaking. That’s when the realization hit that we were experiencing an earthquake.
I threw open the kids’ bedroom door to find the kids all looking at me bewildered. I made a split second decision that the best idea was to stay put in their bedroom. Jed was already on the lower bunk, and I grabbed Jules from her toddler bed and stuffed her on the lower bunk as well. James was still staring at me and asked me why my washer machine was shaking the house so badly. I told him we’d talk about it later, and told him he had to get on the lower bunk with us. As time has passed, the fact that he thought it was the washer machine violently shaking our house has become a definite source of amusement. At the time all I wanted was for the shaking to stop and all of us to be safe.
As we huddled on the bed together, I prayed out-loud over and over, “Jesus, protect us. Keep the house up. Make the earth stop shaking.” Somehow in the midst of it all, I texted my husband who was on a layover in Seattle. I told him there was an earthquake, and that I was scared. That’s when he knew it was a big deal, because we experience little earthquakes all the time. But this one was different.
When Time Pauses
It only lasted 90 seconds. But when you are wondering if the earth will stop shaking or if the house will stand or if you are going to be okay, 90 seconds of experiencing an earthquake feels like an eternity. Somehow we didn’t lose power or internet and we were able to FaceTime my husband after the shaking stopped. I’m so grateful he was there, even in the distance, during those moments. He helped me calm down and that also helped the three kids. He was also on FaceTime with us when 5 minutes later a large aftershock hit. While the aftershock was smaller and shorter than the original one, to an extent it was more scary. I had begun processing the main shock that had literally rocked our world. There was less confused reaction and more knowledge of what was going on. And that reality was terrifying.
Checking for Damage
As the first aftershock finished, I went and quickly finished getting ready for the day. I slowly crept from the upstairs bedrooms to view the damage. I was relieved, and surprised, to find very little. Our closet was a disaster, but for the most part only a few things fell off the wall and only a few knick-knacks had broken. The kitchen cupboards had all flown open and the dishes had walked themselves to the edge of the shelves, but somehow they had not fallen out. A neighbor came to help me make sure there were no gas leaks and I briefly entered the crawlspace to make sure I couldn’t see any severe damage. I was pleased and surprised to find that the house had held up like a champ and we couldn’t find any significant damage.
Aftershocks, Moving Forward, and Emotions
Physically, the worst part of experiencing an earthquake was over. While we had sustained little damage, hundreds of homes had been severely damaged – many to the point that they couldn’t be lived in. Whole sections of roads were no longer existent. But it wasn’t over. The aftershocks are still continuing at the time of writing this. They still are creating heightened awareness and fear, but those first few days were hard. The emotional turmoil was intense.
At the Anchorage airport, only one or two of the ten jetways were operational. My husband’s flight was severely delayed, but 6.5 hours after he was supposed to arrive, he did land at the airport. They had opened the one highway to and from the city to only outbound traffic so he was able to make it home past the sinkholes and damaged bridges. I’m beyond grateful that I did not have to spend that first night with dozens of significant aftershocks by myself with the kids.
Understanding the Severity
I’ve heard so many people say that it wasn’t a big deal. That it was not even worthy of comparison because the Anchorage area experienced the second largest earthquake ever measured in 1964. In fact, some have said that we should just get over experiencing an earthquake, because it could have been much worse. And they’re right. In comparison to the 1964 earthquake, our 7.0 earthquake was small. In comparison to many other 7.0 earthquakes in Haiti, California, and other places there was not the same loss of life and injury and horrendous damage. And I’m grateful. So grateful. But we still lived through a natural disaster. We still have emotional recovery to get through. There was still significant damage. And it was a big deal to those of us who lived through it.
November 30th, 2018, was just a normal day when it started, and for most in this world it holds no significance. But for those of us in this area, it will be the day of the 7.1 earthquake. An earthquake that could have been much worse but thankfully wasn’t. An earthquake that rocked our world. An earthquake that left Alaskans shaken, but not broken.