At 8:29 a.m. last Friday, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake jolted Anchorage. There were no deaths or major injuries reported, but the quake caused rock slides, prompted thousands of aftershocks and devastated portions of several roads.
One, the northbound off-ramp of Minnesota Boulevard near Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, crumbled like a jigsaw puzzle. Photos of the damage showed mangled piles of snow-dusted rubble disappearing into gaping holes in the earth.
Less than a week later, however, Alaska Department of Transportation officials announced that the road had been repaired. Lest no one believe them, they posted drone video of the same stretch of road, showing freshly painted lines, neat rows of traffic cones and smooth asphalt ready for traffic.
Barely 100 hours after the earthquake, it was as if nothing had ever happened.
“The before and after footage speaks volumes to the level of work our crews have been putting in 24/7 this past week,” Alaska DOT wrote in the caption.
The collective response was one of awe mixed with state pride. (“Alaskans know how to rock, roll and repair!” one commenter wrote.) Followed by: How?! After all, everyone knows about that one roadway that has been under perpetual construction since at least the Clinton administration.
Alaska DOT spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy was quick to emphasize that this was emergency repair work and not a regular transportation project.
The latter requires permitting, survey operations, geotechnical work and a host of other prerequisites — and those finished roadways are designed to last, say, 20 years, she said.
“All of those things take a lot of time,” McCarthy told The Washington Post. “This is not that kind of project. This is a project to restore essential travel.”
While the repaired road is safe for drivers, it will require additional work after the spring arrives, she added.
That said, McCarthy credited recent planning for a speedy response time in this case, which was necessary because of the limited number of roads in the area. It helped, too, that the Federal Highway Administration approved a “quick release” of $5 million in emergency funds to Alaska, although the total cost of this particular road repair has yet to be finalized.
McCarthy recalled that the earthquake struck last Friday just as she was about to go into an 8:30 a.m. meeting. By 11 a.m., crews were on the scene clearing rubble from the off-ramp, she said.
The biggest challenge was obtaining asphalt in the midst of Alaska’s winter, when road construction projects are typically suspended.
“One of the first things that happened on Friday morning was one someone from our construction staff called some of the owners of the asphalt plants and said, ‘We’re going to need asphalt in about five days. Can you get up and running?’ " McCarthy said. “It’s really hard to keep an asphalt plant up and running when it’s cold out . . . The oil has to be wicked hot, and the aggregate has to be dry.”
Fortunately, the asphalt plants were able to restart operations right away. From that point on, a crew of 14 — seven contract laborers, five contract truck drivers and two Alaska DOT project engineers — worked “day and night” to haul out the rubble, bring in the asphalt, repave the road and paint it again, McCarthy said.
The repairs were completed before sunrise on Dec. 4, less than five days after the quake hit.
“Everything’s a blur right now,” McCarthy said.
After the repairs, a few suspicious people on Facebook tried to truth-squad the photos, claiming they had been doctored. They were quickly countered by residents who posted photos of the good-as-new roads.
“Not fake,” one person wrote. “We call it Alaskan!”
Aftershocks in the area are expected to persist for months, the Anchorage Daily News reported. Transportation crews will continue to monitor the roadway in the meantime, as well as other earthquake-damaged roads in Anchorage that were reopened in less than a week.
“It’s been a great effort,” Alaska’s transportation commissioner, John MacKinnon, said in a Facebook video. “When things get bad like this, it brings out the best in people.”