Earthquakes are simply a part of life for Alaskans; tremors and quakes are commonplace when your home is on the edge of what is known as the Ring of Fire. But that doesn’t make the 7.0 quake on November 30th of 2018 any less intense – it just means that communities who brave the tectonic activity become more prepared and more resilient every year. Blaine’s Art Supply was one of the many businesses impacted by the recent earthquake; despite about $10,000 worth of damage (and mess to clean up) owner Dave Haag and his store crew had the 9,000 sq. ft. store back together to re-open just days later. We called up Dave to hear firsthand how the earthquake impacted his business.
“I was home. I had just taken a sip of coffee and I set the cup down. I could hear it before I felt it. The whole house started to shake. It sounded like a freight train; I grabbed my dog Copper and got out of there. It was just about 8:30 am and the sun was coming up. There was was a little bit of glow and the house was silhouetted against the morning sky. I stood in my backyard and I watched with a combination of fascination and horror as my house shimmied back and forth and side to side. The lights were on, I could see things falling off the wall… Copper was glued to my side.”
As the shaking subsided, his phone rang – it was Alicia, the staff member who had opened the shop that morning. She had just begun to get ready for the day when the store was hit:
“This magnitude 7.0 earthquake is an experience I will never forget. I was in the store alone opening the registers when the rattling and vibration began. When an earthquake hits you, you pause and look around quizzically thinking “Is this going to be a little adventure or do I need to run for my life?” It sounded and felt like a freight train was running through the building. Merchandise was crashing to the floor and parts of the light fixtures were falling. I had the presence of mind to get to the steel door frame of the frame shop entrance. The steel was shaking hard and it was terrifying!
When the shaking and crashing stopped, I called Dave. After making sure I was okay, he said to post signs that we would be closed and to take pictures of the damage, lock up and go home. As I picked my way around, strong and frequent aftershocks began to hit. I started to worry that if a stronger quake hit, my path could be blocked and I couldn’t get out. I decided it wasn’t safe and I needed to leave. I was scared to go upstairs but I wanted to get the money back in the safe. I dashed upstairs but couldn’t get in the office, something had fallen inside and blocked the door. I literally took the money and ran!”
The store before the earthquake….
“The ready-made frames were all on the floor, with broken glass everywhere. Our paint tube displays spit paint tubes out like PEZ dispensers. The mannequin section looked like a crime scene. Spray paint hit the floor and discharged paint everywhere. The building had multiple sheetrock cracks, and one door heaved up so much that we couldn’t open it.”
On Friday the shop was closed; staff members had their own homes to deal with. But on Saturday morning, it was right back to business; they needed to clean up and get the shop inspected to make sure it was safe to reopen. Dave sent word to his team; if they were on the schedule, he’d see them tomorrow; if they weren’t on for tomorrow, would they please consider coming in to help with the massive clean up.
The entire crew showed up the next day; by 2 pm they were ready to open the doors!
The Silver Lining
Despite the traumatic experience of the world turning upside down and the financial blow of thousands of dollars lost in property damage, Dave pointed out an unexpected silver lining.
“Thousands of homes have had artwork hit the floor. Our frame shop has been slammed everyday since the earthquake with people bringing in damaged artwork. Our framing sales have increased, and it will probably be like this for the foreseeable future. People are still trickling in.”
Looking Forward: Disaster Preparedness
In addition to looking on the bright side, Dave also gifted me with some savvy safety knowledge that I was particularly eager to hear; I live and work in the San Francisco Bay Area, a region overdue for you-know-what.
“You can never be fully prepared, but you can certainly mitigate the risks. As a business owner, this experience underscored the need for a disaster plan. If we have to leave the building, where do we go, where do we meet, what’s our protocol? My first concern after the safety of the staff was the building. We are going to tour the utility room. Everyone needs to know where the gas shut off is, where the water is. You should never shut off your gas if you don’t smell gas. If you do, the gas company has to turn it back on for you; after a major disaster that could be weeks. And if you don’t have any heat, your pipes could burst.”
Clearly, Alaskans have earned their reputation for resilience and grit; not only did they recover as a team from a traumatic event, they managed to look on the bright side, chin up, while preparing for the next big one. That’s not to say that this experience hasn’t rattled the community; with constant aftershocks, each day is a challenge. But, as Dave says, Alaskans are a “hardy bunch.” Account Manager Catherine Thoele shared an image of Minnesota Ave Exit to Ted Stevens International Airport, just after the quake. “I visited a week later – and I drove on it. Alaskans are resilient, resourceful and the friendliest folks around!”
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