In Chugiak-Eagle River, earthquake recovery will be a long-term effort

Tuesday, January 15, 2019 - 13:40
  • U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski walks into Jitters coffee shop before meeting with Chugiak-Eagle River area small business owners on Friday, Dec. 14, 2018. Murkowski said her office is standing by to help those impacted by the Nov. 30 earthquake. Chugiak-Eagle River was one of the hardest hit areas, with numerous area small businesses still unable to open due to damage from the magnitude 7.0 quake. (Matt Tunseth / ADN)

As the New Year approaches, it’s becoming clear to Chugiak-Eagle River residents the ramifications from the Nov. 30 earthquake will be felt for months and years to come.

Two special community meetings were to be held in Eagle River in the past week to help disseminate information about earthquake recovery efforts and allow residents to share their stories. The first, on Friday, featured Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHS&EM) incident commander Bryan Fisher, who each talked about state and federal resources available to small business owners. Fisher said state grants will be available, and encouraged people to apply immediately if they’ve suffered damage.

“We’re encouraging everyone to apply, register with our program and get that process started,” he said.

Fisher and Murkowski said evaluations by a number of state and federal agencies are ongoing, including DHS&EM, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Small Business Administration. FEMA is making Preliminary Disaster Assessments, which are the first step in helping what if any federal funding will be needed to help the community recover.

A federal disaster has yet to be declared, meaning federal assistance is not yet available. But though she can’t speak for the Trump administration, Murkowski said she’s confident the president is aware of the post-quake challenges faced by Alaskans and that a federal aid for Alaskans seems likely.

“The administration has made a pretty strong commitment to be there,” she said.

Business owners said they’re still struggling with numerous issues ranging from insurance (which often covers nothing in an earthquake) to lost wages for workers left temporarily jobless to costly building repairs. One said he’s hopeful state and federal agencies will be able to get on the same page when it comes to helping people get back on their feet.

Fisher said his office is already preparing for a federal disaster declaration and urged business owners to be patient. If a federal disaster is declared, he said a joint state and federal office will be set up right in Eagle River. Until then, however, he urged people to keep their reciepts and take lots of pictures.

“Right now you should be documenting all of these expenses and concerns,” he said.

The second community meeting will be held Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Alpenglow Elementary and will include a visit from Fisher, who’ll be joined Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, ASD superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop, Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management director Mike Sutton and other state and muni officials.

Two schools in Chugiak-Eagle River have been closed indefinitely, with Gruening Middle School and Eagle River Elementary red-tagged and in rough shape. Built in 1961, Eagle River Elementary is currently being propped up on opposite sides by a series of posts and has been red-tagged due to a wall collapse. Gruening, which opened in 1984, suffered major damage to its facade.

Individuals looking for assistance can visit muni.org, where there’s a link to apply for state disaster relief and a link to sign up for a free earthquake damage structural inspection.

Businesses in Chugiak-Eagle River are slowly reopening, but many also have major damage and some will remain closed for months. At Jitters, Murkowski’s remarks came in front of a packed crowd inside the popular coffee shop, which had to close for five days for repairs and as of Friday was still missing most of its ceiling tiles.

At the Friday meeting, one resident wondered aloud whether Alaska should be doing more to prepare for a natural disaster by perhaps moving more emergency food and supplies to places like Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

While the magnitude 7.0 quake didn’t cause any deaths, it did illustrate why Alaska’s vulnerabilities should be continually reevaluated, Murkowski said.

“”I think we’re all learning in these past two weeks,” she said.

Murkwoski praised local utilities, state workers and private contractors for doing things like getting the lights back on quickly in the wake of the earthquake, inspecting homes for gas leaks, and fixing roads damaged by the quake.

“At the end of the day we’re neighbors here and we take care of one another,” she said.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at editor@alaskastar.com or call 257-4274.

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