Though one lane of Kalifornsky Beach Road was still open to traffic Sunday afternoon, many drivers heading between Kenai and Kasilof stopped of their own volition. They wanted to see the gaping cracks in the pavement that occurred when a magnitude 7.1 earthquake hit Southcentral Alaska around 1:30 that morning.
James Benson, of Soldotna, and his daughter, Ali, were part of the steady stream of people marveling at the shattered road. “Yeah, we had to come out here and check it out,” Benson remarked. A crack runs about 150 feet through the northbound lane, spidering into fissures that extend laterally down into the snowy marshland off the side of the road. The force of the quake split the road near its center, and the shoulder side of the northbound lane sloughed away and sank up to a foot and a half. The fissures measure as little as inches across to more than a foot wide, with depths up to about 10 feet.
The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities closed the northbound lane and marked the area with caution signs and cones Sunday morning. Spokesperson Shannon McCarthy said DOT plans to send a work crew Monday morning. She explained, “We’re going to have our maintenance crews get in there and make a temporary fix tomorrow so we can open it to two-lane traffic. What they’ll do is they’ll grind up the broken-up pavement and they’ll bring in D1, which is a type of gravel, and smooth it out so that both lanes are usable.”
Crews will repave the road after the weather warms up this summer. During the temporary repairs, one lane of traffic will remain open as much as possible.On Sunday, drivers were getting through the one-lane section without the help of flaggers, though most stopped on the shoulder of the road anyway to take a closer look. Cameraphones were at the ready to snap pictures of the cracks, and a drone camera buzzed overhead. Smalltalk was all on the same subject — the earthquake.
Deb Hartley, of Soldotna, had just finished walking the family dog when her husband, Rick, shouted to her as the shaking started. Hartley recalled, “I just walked in the house and all of a sudden he goes, grab the TV because it hit not 30 seconds after. I’ve got the dog in one hand and I’m holding the TV. But we didn’t lose anything. There was no damage to the house, so it was great.”
10-year-old Ali Benson was posing for pictures for her dad to send to her grandmother. James Benson joked that, “This is what Alaskans do for fun.” Ali was marking the occasion by taking home a few keepsakes, clutching a grimy chunk of asphalt under each arm, one with bits of yellow centerline paint still showing. James called it her “souvenir from her first earthquake she remembers.”
Ali slept through half the earthquake until her dad woke her up.“I grabbed her and we just headed for the front door, kind of half in, half out of the house,” James said.
James remembers being in Fairbanks when a magnitude 7.9 quake jolted Interior Alaska in November 2002. He said, “It was almost fun, but this one last night was violent. Our house was moving 3 feet. We were bouncing going down the hall.”
McCarthy said the damage to K-Beach Road is similar to the cracking that occurred on the Richardson and Glenn highways in the 2002 quake. “Our roads, because they’re made to be stiff, when an earthquake comes along they’re like any other structure, they can be susceptible to movement. It can happen on literally any road, if you have a big enough quake with enough movement, it can occur almost anywhere,” she explained.
DOT crews were busy throughout the night checking bridges on the Kenai Peninsula, in Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna area, and again Sunday during the light of day.
McCarthy explained “They’re looking for anything unusual, anything that happened that’s new that would indicate a problem. Bridges are engineered specifically to take this kind of abuse from an earthquake but we want to let people know that we do inspect within 24 hours of an event.”
McCarthy said that all bridges passed inspection.