‘It’s kind of surreal now’: UAA community reacts to the earthquake

The earthquake on Nov. 30 took Alaskans by surprise. Some were still asleep, some were already at work and others were on the campus when the first earthquake happened at 8:29 a.m.

The second floor of the Student Union after the earthquake on Friday. Timothy Lee described the union's state after the earthquake as "disastrous."
The second floor of the Student Union after the earthquake on Friday. Timothy Lee described the union’s state after the earthquake as “disastrous.” Photo courtesy of Timothy Lee.
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UAA Maintenance employee Tmothy Lee was part of the crew making initial assessments of the damage after the earthquake. Lee took this picture of the third floor in Beatrice McDonald Hall on Friday. Photo credit: Timothy Lee

Benjamin Miller, UAA student, was working the morning shift in the Union Station Café.

“There usually isn’t much business on Fridays, just because there’s so few classes,” Miller said. “I had made a few coffees and… was just sitting and waiting for some more people to come by.”When the shaking began, Miller did not realize it was an earthquake.

“I’m used to really strong winds shaking buildings, so when the quake started, that’s what I thought it was,” Miller said.

But then somebody yelled to get down. Miller dropped and got under the counter of the coffee shop.

“I thought it would never end,” Miller said. “It was definitely one of the scarier moments of my life because I’ve never been in any sort of major earthquake before. Stuff kept falling off the counter and I was thinking to myself ‘Oh, this is going to be such a mess.’”

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Only after the earthquake did Miller realizes the actual extent of the damage.

“I was sort of dazed and talking to my manager when the second [earthquake] hit, and we all went under some of the tables in the café,” Miller said.

Now he describes his experience as “surreal.”

“I wasn’t even supposed to work that day. I had traded a shift with someone earlier this week… expecting a really slow day and got exactly the opposite,” Miller said.

The Union Station Café remained closed on Wednesday due to damage from the earthquake.

For engineering major Eric Jones, the greatest shock moment didn’t come until after the initial quake. Jones went to his off-campus work around 7 a.m.; after the earthquake, he was heading home to clean up his house. While he was on Minnesota Drive, Jones was surprised by an aftershock.

“I was on the off-ramp. The aftershock made the off-ramp crack and my car was sideways for a few seconds,” Jones said. “My front left tire blew due to the stress and the vehicle behind me got caught in the big sinkhole that was there. It was like the whole road was falling down behind me as I was driving.”

Liam Lindsay, physical education major, was working with clients in the Human Performance Lab in Eugene Short Hall at the time of the earthquake. Like Miller, he did not realize what was going on at first.

“The Eugene Short Hall shakes when people walk around on the second floor, so it’s normal for us to hear that noise from time to time,” Lindsay said.”After about five seconds it got super violent, and we realized what was happening.”

Lindsay quickly moved towards cover, remembering his earthquake training, he explained.

“We decided the Cuddy Quad would be a safe place to be with little chance of something falling down on us. We made our way outside as others came out as well,” Lindsay said.

Later, they went back to the lab to assess the damage. While a few ceiling tiles had come down, they found the exercise testing equipment unharmed. Still, the Human Performance Lab decided to cancel all tests for the rest of the day.

After calibrating and testing the equipment throughout the week, the lab is now up and running.

UAA Maintenance employee, Timothy Lee, was still at home when the earthquake happened. He immediately headed to the university afterwards to assess the damage on campus.

“[The Student Union] was a disaster,” Lee said. “They asked us Saturday morning if we will be able to open on Monday and we all just collectively laughed.”

UAA Maintenance worked on getting the campus ready for classes from Friday, Nov. 30 to Tuesday, Dec. 4. There was pressure to finish on time as campus was scheduled to reopen on Wednesday. Their crew of 20 workers was working long hours during these days, Lee said. He emphasized that the effort was collective.

“Honestly, we were just doing our jobs,” Lee said. “We all wanted to get the job done. We all wanted to get the students back and to get everything running again.”

Students needing assistance in the aftermath of the earthquake can contact the UAA Dean of Students by phone or via email at aydos@alaska.edu.

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