This editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on Dec. 19, 2012:
Eight years ago today, a sudden shift in the seabed created an enormous tsunami that killed as many as 280,000 people across Indonesia and southern Asia. The quake’s magnitude was somewhere between 9 and 9.3, which put it in the same league as the 1964 Good Friday earthquake centered in Alaska’s Prince William Sound.
The lesson should be clear for all Alaskans. We live in a zone in which some of the world’s most devastating earthquakes can occur. It’s worth preparing for such events, because they’re bound to happen again.
Interior Alaska has experienced numerous small quakes during the past few weeks, which isn’t unusual. Many residents felt the magnitude 3.4 quake at about 11:15 p.m. on Dec. 18. The quake was centered near Minto, about 40 miles northwest of Fairbanks.
These smaller quakes don’t often predict larger quakes in the near future. They can serve as a reminder of the ever-present possibility, though.
The Alaska Range on our southern horizon is jagged for a reason - the peaks are still being uplifted by tectonic activity. On Nov. 3, 2002, an earthquake of 7.9 magnitude hit in the center of the mountains straight south of Fairbanks. It was the largest inland quake in North America during the previous 150 years. In some locations, ground on each side of the Denali Fault came to rest offset by as much as 13 feet vertically and 28 feet horizontally.
Alaskans can do much to prepare for earthquakes of this sort. The Alaska Earthquake Information Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks has a good list of actions at its website, http://www.aeic.alaska.edu. It suggests practicing how to react in a quake, taking steps to secure household items, stockpiling supplies and creating a plan for where to meet family members.
These are excellent suggestions that could avoid much damage and misery when the next big quake rolls through. And make no mistake, that’s “when,” not “if.”