PALMER — When the magnitude 7.1 earthquake hit on Nov. 30, 2018, at 8:30 a.m., Mat-Su Borough Manager John Moosey had been at work in his second-floor office of the borough building for about an hour when his shelves and the 19 bobblehead baseball players they contained came crashing down.
“Being from the midwest, earthquakes and hearing about the big one, everything up to that point had been real cute,” Moosey said.
Moosey felt a shake in his second floor office when the shelf on the wall immediately adjacent to his desk started losing its contents. The large shelf stood against the far wall in his office came crashing down soon after and Moosey made it to the doorway where he waited out the long earthquake. With only a handful of staff in the building by that time, Moosey took care of the people inside the borough building before he could try and pick of the pieces of the shaken Mat-Su Borough.
“We were very ready and I think that showed in the response because we do have Casey Cook who is head of emergency management and we trained and we exercised,” Moosey said.
Moosey and Deputy Borough Manager George Hays and a small handful of essential staff stayed in the building to communicate with borough staff and assess damage. Moosey said that both federal and state officials were in contact almost immediately and the small handful of borough staff got to work on fixing problems as they arose while the earth kept shaking.
“That first night, it was tough. I could not sleep at all,” Moosey said.
With power outages, school buildings suffering some of the most visible damage in close proximity to their students and roads that had crumbled under the seismic shake, Moosey counted on the Director of Emergency Services to handle physical problems in the borough.
“Man, we should’ve had a press conference earlier,” Moosey said. “With everything going on, people want their news right now and they want it consistently updated.”
Moosey responded to phone calls from Frontiersman editorial staff with remarkable expedience on Nov. 30, but borough officials did not appear for a press conference until four days later on Dec. 3. At the time, DES was directed by Otto Feather, who since resigned and has been succeeded by Ken Barkley.
“We need to find a way where we can get the information out to the people so they feel comfortable,” Moosey said.
In assessing the damage, Moosey still shudders at the thought of hundreds of Valley residents climbing all over the wreckage of Vine Road in the near aftermath with consistent aftershocks rattling the ground in the weeks and months that followed ‘the big one.’ Moosey also recalled that the unique situation troubling borough officials was that the damage of the quake that required immediate response was not limited to one location but scattered throughout Southcentral Alaska.
“All our tragedies or issues have always been just Mat-Su centric, so how do we use the same services and that sort of thing and maybe we need to do more planning statewide for all of this,” Moosey said.
In the year since the magnitude 7.1 earthquake on Nov. 30, Moosey has sat at the assembly dias during discussions about insurance claims to help repair Houston Middle School, which still has not yet had it’s repair strategy finalized. Despite the catastrophic damage to the concrete masonry unit walls inside Houston Middle’s academic wing, none of the students in Houston Middle or any of the other 46 schools in the Mat-Su Borough School District were hurt. The borough immediately readied disaster relief funds for school repair to replace ceiling tiles and broken HVAC systems that were affected in various school buildings.
“We got fortunate to have Houston Middle School fall apart and not a single injury. That’s God, there’s no doubt about that,” Moosey said.