Months after 7.0 Alaska earthquake, federal disaster assistance process continues

More than three months after last year’s magnitude 7.0 earthquake rocked households around Southcentral Alaska, the disaster has all but disappeared from the headlines. Still, hundreds of Alaskans are still processing the impact.

On a sunny Wednesday morning in late February, a team of Volunteer Agency Liaisons from the Federal Emergency Management Agency made a visit to the Anchorage Senior Center to share information and answer questions for members of the municipality’s Senior Citizen’s Advisory Commission.

“There’s still a need,” said Volunteer Agency Liaison Mary Kucenski. “There’s still people who are struggling and suffering, and making sure that people are aware of that and that the community is working together to help those who are still struggling is always something that needs to be addressed.”

Kucenski said the agency is still running four disaster recovery centers located at the Spenard Community Rec Center and the University Center Mall in Anchorage, at Community Covenant Church in Eagle River and at Christ First United Methodist Church in Wasilla. Alaskans can apply for federal disaster assistance through April 1, according to FEMA.

More than 13,000 people applied for State of Alaska Individual Assistance, according to the Governor’s Office. Thousands also applied for federal assistance after President Trump approved a federal disaster declaration last month. Between Jan. 31 and March 4, FEMA approved more than $4.1 million in disaster assistance aid for more than 1,300 Alaskans, according to the agency.

Hattie Gardner, 77 and a member of the senior commission, listened intently as the team from FEMA made its presentation Feb. 27. Her home suffered extensive damage during the Nov. 30 quake, she said. She’d been living out of hotels ever since.

While she’d experienced the Good Friday earthquake of 1964, the earthquake in 2018 was different, Gardner said. It traumatized her. She was alone in her home in Eagle River, she said, and the earthquake threw her to the ground and left deep cracks across her walls. The garage floor sank, walls came up and part of the ceiling came down, she said.

Now, Gardner said, she’s going through the process of applying for federal aid, waiting for a required inspection, hoping it can help her repair her home. Even then, she says, she’s not sure she can ever go back.

“I’m 77 years, I think it’s time for me to go someplace else and do something different,” Gardner said. “I don’t feel safe anymore.”

Kirsten Swann is a producer and reporter for Alaska Public Media.

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