SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Not Much Rockin and Rollin Round Here



February 01, 2016
Monday AM

Ketchikan, Alaska -
I was on the Internet a few days ago when Los Anchorage got shaken and stirred by a fair size earthquake. It was one of those virtual moments where one of my up north Facebook friends suddenly announced. "Wow, that was a big one." Then others quickly chimed in their reports of shaking and things falling off the walls.

jpg  Dave Kiffer

Experiencing it online was better than actually being there.

Really, it was.

Turned out the temblor was one of the biggest ones to hit that area in a couple of decades.

Of course, down in here in Our Fair Salmon City we felt nothing.

That's no surprise. The last time these here parts had a quake of significant size to REALLY shake things was ........ well, pretty much never.

Okay, you say, we're on the coast, we must get tsunamis right? After all, everywhere you look you see those nifty blue Tsunami Evacuation signs, right? Well, the last time this little slice of God's Country had a tsunami of any size was ...... well, also pretty much never.

Okay, I am not saying we have never ever had a major earthquake or a tsunami in the Ketchikan area. But as far as I can tell, the last one was probably in the Mesozoic era.

(yes, yes, I am sure there is a geologist or two out there who will tell me that there have been earthquakes and tidal waves here more recently. But no one seems to remember them. And now that I am getting older (senior tax exemption here I come!), I can say "not in my lifetime" with the certainty that that has actually been a relatively long period of time, if not geologically speaking. The only contemporary events that can actually be measured in geologic time are committee meetings and youth soccer practices).

There was a big quake on the BC coast a few years ago. The tsunami that roared through the Ketchikan harbor was measured at six inches. There was a decent size quake out by Craig a couple of years ago. My house creaked a wee bit. We just don't - knock on wood - get those type of "events" here.

And I would recognize one if I felt it. I was on an upper floor of a hotel in Anchorage a decade ago when one rattled my teeth. And I was on a much, much, much higher floor in a Los Angeles skyscraper many years ago when one rattled a lot more than my teeth. Talk about a feeling of terror, the building is swaying back and forth like a drunk palm tree and you have nowhere to go but down. Way down.

But back to Ketchikan. We were inundated by a tsunami of Internet concern over our well-being after this most recent quake made national news.

"Are you guys okay?" most of it went. "We are so worried. Was there much damage to your town? We are sorry for your loss."

BTW, a pox on whomever came up the phrase "I am sorry for your loss." It just sounds like a plastic platitude, at best, or something a candidate would say on the campaign trail, at worst. Facile insincerity at its finest. If you just say "I am so sorry" that sounds much more like a real feeling, rather than something that sounds like what you should say when you don't know what to say.

As usual, I digress.

So anyway, there wasn't any earthquake loss in Ketchikan to be sorry for. Didn't feel a thing. I suspect most of Ketchikan just slept through it unless like me they were up late staring at the computer.

Of course, you can't really convince Outsiders about such things. They see "Big Quake Strikes Alaska" and they assume we are all rocking and rolling, because they have no idea how big the state is. After all, they grew up in geography classrooms where the map showed Alaska as pretty danged dinky and way down next to Hawaii.

I spent the next couple of days answering messages trying to explain how Ketchikan was more than 700 miles from the quake epicenter and that, no, we didn't have an earthquake here. Kind of in the same way that the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, although very powerful, didn't really stir up the good folks in Phoenix very much.

BTW, if you google "distance from Ketchikan to Anchorage," it gives you the DRIVING distance, some 1,657.3 miles. Which would be helpful if you could actually "drive" from Ketchikan to Anchorage, which you can't (without using a ferry boat). It also tells you that the driving time would be 36 hours and 7 minutes "without traffic." Since it's always "bumper to bumper" on the Alaskan Highway, you might want to plan for 36 hours and 9 minutes, "with traffic."

But I digress. Again.

What this endless geologically slow discussion is leading to it the fact that - even though we haven't had or are likely to have a seismic event - we should probably take a minute to prepare - at least mentally - for the possibility. Seriously, when was the last time you actually took a minute to think about what you would if Ketchikan were rattled by a big one?

So here are some frequently - well maybe not in Ketchikan - asked questions about earthquakes and what I think are the best answers.

What should I do, if I wake up and an earthquake is occurring?

Go back to sleep. There is very little you can personally do to stop it

Shouldn't I at least get out of bed?

Not really, bed is probably the safest place to be. Although most people do die in bed, very, very, very few are killed by earthquakes while in bed. You are more likely to be struck by lightning while winning Powerball than to be killed by an earthquake in bed. Unless you have one of those unusually large moose heads hanging over your bed. Then you might want to duck and cover.

What about standing in a doorway?

Once upon a time, that was thought of as a safe place to be, much like it was thought that it was a good idea to crawl into a bathtub during a tornado. Now we know the bathtub thing is not a good idea (crash landing in a porcelain parachute, not good) and the only good time to crawl into a bathtub is during a flood or a plague of boils. Given the generally poor construction standards in Ketchikan, standing in a doorway is probably only about one percent more effective than standing underneath scaffolding full of flaming bricks. Your choice.

What should I do if there is a gas leak? What if I smell natural gas?

When there is an earthquake in the civilized world, gas lines break and houses explode. That, of course, is just a small price to pay for having a convenient and inexpensive source for home heating and cooking. Fortunately, Ketchikan is not the civilized world. Smelling a natural gas leak means you are probably dreaming and it is not a real earthquake. Go back to sleep. Disregard this advice if you have propane tanks. Get far, far away. Like Anchorage far.

Should I run outside my house? Is that any safer?

Contrary to Hollywood movies, most people do not die in earthquakes when the earth opens up and swallows them whole. Most people die when something falls on them (see above: Moose head). Usually it is something pedestrian like a bookcase (always put encyclopedias and concrete knick-knacks on the bottom shelf). If you run outside, you dramatically increase the likelihood that something else tall - trees, power poles, professional basketball players - can fall on you.

What should I do if I am already outside?

First avoid bottomless, gaping holes in the ground. Do not - repeat do not - shout "hey watch this" and try to jump over the bottomless, gaping holes in the ground.

Second, only stand next to really short people.

On the Web:

Columns by Dave Kiffer

Historical Feature Stories by Dave Kiffer


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2016

Publish A Letter

Letter to the Editor

SitNews ©2016
Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska


SitNews ©2014
Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

Contact the Editor