Nearly one year later, some Eagle River neighborhoods still recovering from earthquake
As the one year anniversary of November’s magnitude 7.1 earthquake approaches, some neighborhoods are still in recovery mode. That’s especially true in Eagle River, where the damage was generally greater than in the Anchorage Bowl.
Sean Lock is the homeowners association president for Parkview Terrace East — an Eagle River neighborhood that was hit hard by the earthquake.
“We had a lot of houses that slid partially off their foundations, either one or two walls, some of them completely moved, “ he said. “Foundations cracked; houses have sunk.”
Lock’s own home had no structural damage, but he and his wife have spent plenty on cosmetic repairs including sheet rock.
“We’re probably pushing $45,000 in damages,” he said.
Lock’s neighbor fared even worse. The house right next door had extensive structural damage, which Lock said the owner couldn’t afford to fix, so he simply walked away.
“Once they hit $150,000 in damage, in estimated repairs, they’re like, it’s too much for them, so they ended up walking on the loan," he said.
Engineers say there are several reasons why buildings in Eagle River sustained more damage from the quake than buildings in the Anchorage Bowl. The level of shaking is not considered a significant factor but how the homes were built may be.
Cody Kreitel, a geotechnical engineer with PDC Engineers said Eagle River had more issues with uncompacted fill than Anchorage, referring to soils used to level lots for construction. Kreitel said fill placed improperly can cause problems later.
“There’s two big issues with uncompacted fill,” Kreitel said. “One, you can sometimes just get settlement, it’s not compacted, so the shaking compacts it. And the other issue is slope stability. And we saw that a lot around town, where there was actually slides.”
Amy Mestas, a structural engineer also with PDC Engineers, described the ground failure this way:
“You can kind of think of it like you're getting 30 years of settlement and compaction in 30 seconds, because of the shaking. So there’s not necessarily anything wrong with your home or anything wrong with the ground underneath, it’s just that it wasn’t compacted in the first place and over time that would settle. But when the ground shakes it settles really fast.”
Many experts believe the biggest reason for the difference in damage lies with the fact that the Eagle River-Chugiak area is outside of the municipality’s building safety service area. That means building plans don’t need to be approved by the municipality and there’s no city inspection required to make sure homes are built to code.
Mestas said engineering teams inspecting earthquake damage found plenty of homes which were not.
“A lot of what we saw was improper nailing of shear walls, foundations not connected to the house properly, the roof maybe not connected to the walls in the way that it’s supposed to be. So those failures are happening and a lot of that is likely because of lack of inspection and/or just not having plans in the first place,” she said.
Eagle River residents could vote to join the safety service area, but according to Director of Development Services Bob Doehl a majority of residents both inside and outside the current boundaries would have to approve the change.
Doehl said Anchorage Assembly members can also make changes to city code that would require greater oversight of buildings in Eagle River and other areas which are currently outside the safety service area.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated Cody Kreitel and Amy Mestas are engineers at PCD Engineers. The correct name of the firm is PDC Engineers.
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