The Not-Tsunami in Seward

Honey and I were in the car at midnight, sitting in the marina parking lot, just back from taking her to a nice isolated area she could run around unsupervised.  Mostly because I am sometimes a terrible friend, and she’d been stuck in the vberth while I worked on bulky, messy projects until late, so I felt like she deserved more than the short walks to familiar places.

At first, I thought she was sleep-running.  Absurd, right?   She wasn’t, so, earthquake.  I’m from interior Alaska–I’ve lived on the ring of fire all my life, so I’m a trifle phlegmatic about earthquakes.

It took a few more seconds for the realization that the earthquake-associated hazards of living on the water are a trifle different than those of living in a vast flatland, and the earthquake had been both strong and long.

At the time, no one knew the earthquake was a strike-slip fault, which displaces orders of magnitude less water than those causing vertical plate movements.

Seward is well-prepared for tsunamis:  we have a regularly-tested public broadcast system, excellent emergency services, clearly marked evacuation signs on the main roads, and easy access to safe centers on high ground.

All I had to do was get back in the car, fill my gas tank, call friends to make sure they knew to evacuate; and decide whether to drive out of Seward along the highway to higher ground and wait it out in the car, or to the local high school where I’d be in good company.  Thanks to the USGS earthquake monitoring, the tsunami early warning systems, and the data recorded by the NOAA buoys, the town had an hour or two of advance notice to get to high ground.

I chose to drive out of town just far enough to get enough elevation but not so far as to lose radio and phone reception, several experienced seafarer friends went to the high school.  Both are safe choices.

Honestly, the evacuation went smoothly.  A blinding snowstorm started up in perfect sync with the tsunami alarm, but we are all used to blinding snowstorms around here.  ONE car went in the ditch.

Less smooth were the interruptions to the normal earthquake data collection and analysis.  Thanks, government sh*tdown.  (Although, this is a good reminder than oceanic science (and well, pretty much all science) is hella worthy of funding, and anyone who says otherwise…well, don’t say otherwise to me.  I will unleash full acerbic commentary.)

Still, we had access to NOAA live buoy data and charts, USGS earthquake monitoring; and local radio stations were calling every person they knew who might have information.  We all drew sharp breaths when one of the two live buoys near Kodiak reported a 10m dip.  I am a transient in this town–the worst thing that would happen to me would be the loss of a boat/home, but our income and security would be unaffected.  Not so for many many others.

The buoy reading turned out to be an anomaly, and a few hours later, emergency services ended the call for evacuation.

N, safely on the east coast, got a story to tell his classmates.  I passed out until noon.  Waiting for Godot is tiring.

Note:  My car is well-stocked, a side-effect of extensive winter road trips. What does this mean?  Cold weather gear, a car charger for electronic devices, chains, always a near-full tank of gas, drinking water, a few thousand calories worth of food including food for Honey, a folding shovel, a roll of toilet paper and a few garbage bags, a basic first aid kit, suncreen, a bit of duct tape, a multi-tool, and the entirely optional flask of vodka stashed with the spare tire.  This is more than sufficient supplies for a basic ditch bag, a bundle I associate more with getting stuck in a ditch than zombies, and also more than sufficient for most evacuations. (I also have a machete and some gardening utensils for clearing trails and wildcrafting, which are fun, but not necessary.  Obviously, my phone is permanently attached.)

 

 

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