ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The Matanuska-Susitna Borough gave an update on its earthquake response Monday evening at the Borough’s Assembly chambers. Mat-Su residents had been vocal on social media, criticizing a lack of information available on the damage in their area, but Borough emergency managers say a lack of information had more to do with the fact that first responders were responding smoothly, and as planned.
Otto Feather, Director of Emergency Services for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough (KTUU)
The 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck at 8:29 a.m. Friday, centered in the far reaches of the Borough, near Point Mackenzie.
“By noon on Friday, we had pretty much gotten back to a normal emergency response tempo that we see every day,” said Otto Feather, the Borough’s Director of Emergency Services.
At that point, Feather said emergency responders turned their attention to assessing infrastructure, and while there were widespread concerns about roads, Feather says the major damage was limited.
But at that point, Feather said, he made a mistake.
“I fell into a trap of believing that life was good. And in fact, life is good in the Valley,” Feather said. “What I failed to recognize, is that I had the information that things were good, and we did not communicate appropriately to the rest of the community. And I think we failed in making sure we were getting out timely, accurate information.”
Feather then facilitated updates from Borough, State and utility officials.
Borough Manager John Moosey said of the disaster declaration process, that President Trump said he’d “spare no expense.”
“We’ll remind him of that,” Moosey said.
As for how hard the Valley was hit, despite some road damage, officials say they're thankful it wasn't worse. "We're just fortunate to live otu here, and we're fortunate that we didn't get hit as hard as we could have," Moosey said. "Everybody I've talked to has been affected by it, but no one's been devastated or destroyed by it."
One of the biggest impacts the Borough saw to its own infrastructure was roads. None of the damage has cut off access to any areas, the Borough’s Director of Operations and Management said.
Borough roads damaged include Point Mackenzie Road, with longitudinal cracks near Mile 15.5 – one lane of traffic can pass through that area, where repairs will begin Dec. 5. There are seven damaged areas between Mileposts 1 and 6 on Point Mackenzie Road also.
W. Susitna Parkway near its intersection with Burma Road also has as many as 50 cracks in one area.
The State Department of Transportation is working on six projects in the Mat-Su Borough due to the quake: The Glenn highway at Milepost 29.3 adjacent to the Old Glenn Highway overpass; two areas in the Glenn/Parks interchange; the Glenn Highway at Mile 55 near Moose Creek, Mile 58.5 of the Glenn Highway, Milepost 5.5 of Clark-Wolverine Road in the Creek Canyon area, and Pittman Road, near Mile .07.
Superintendent Monica Goyette gave an update on Mat-Su Schools,, including an announcement that happened earlier the day that Houston Middle School likely wouldn't open for the rest of the school year, and that five additional schools may take more than a week to open up.
Many officials praised the actions of teachers, both in the Borough and in Anchorage.
"We have about 69,000 students between Anchorage and the Mat-Su Borough. One broken wrist was the total, and that was in Anchorage," said Borough Mayor Vern Halter. "Kudos and thank you to our teachers for taking care of our kids under dire circumstances."
Houston Mayor Virgie Thompson works at Houston Middle School, the one that may not reopen this year. "I say 'extremely devastated' because that's where I've spent 24 years of my life nine months of the year, so when I put kids under desks last Friday I was pretty devastated as well," Thompson said. "I appreciate the school district trying to keep us together."
Moosey, the Borough Manager, says only two Borough buildings, the Palmer pool and the Big Lake Library, are open and functional. The two buildings had structural issues the Borough wants engineers to examine.
Moosey said the port had been examined and no damage was found. He did say a conveyor belt at the port was concerning and its owner had been contacted to address those concerns.
Both Matanuska Electric Association and Enstar gas companies say their calls for service are back to normal levels after the earthquake.