Earthquake Recovery: Alaskans Seek Help for Repairs
It’s been nearly one year since a 7.1 magnitude earthquake rocked Southcenteral Alaska the morning of Nov. 30, 2018. The immediate aftermath shutdown roads, schools, airports and businesses, but the earthquake hit homeowners the hardest. Damage ranged from minor to massive. Many Alaskans are still feeling the financial impact in addition to the aftershocks.
The State of Alaska and federal government declared a disaster, giving homeowners the opportunity to apply for grants to help cover the cost of repairs. Nearly 14,000 residents applied by the Feb. 28 state deadline. More than 10,500 applied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s May 31 deadline.
FEMA applications required homeowners to submit contractor estimates for foundation repairs. But with thousands of people in need of repairs, it created long wait times. Chuck Homan is the owner of Homan Inc., an Eagle River contractor. Homan said despite his best efforts he couldn’t get to all the calls for estimates.
“Contractors are really busy,” Homan said. “We had jobs scheduled before the earthquake for renovations and remodels and now we’re doing earthquake damage on top of that. As far as I know all the major safety issues have been addressed. A lot of people are waiting for cosmetic repairs but people are understanding.”
“I know some homeowners who are waiting until next year to get repairs done,” said Keith Mobley, a geotechnical engineer. “I think it’s still possible to get work done this year, depending on what needs to be done.”
Older homes faced the majority of structural damage. Masonry chimneys in homes built in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s sustained substantial damage, according to Homan. “The chimneys either fell down or need to be taken down and replaced,” Homan said.
The extent to which homeowners are seeking repairs can come down to funding. Many homeowners don’t have earthquake insurance and unless they get state or federal aid they’re left paying for repairs out of pocket. “It’s nearly impossible to get glass out of carpeting,” Homan said. “For homeowners with earthquake insurance, if their windows broke they will replace carpeting. People without insurance are probably just vacuuming it up the best they can.”
On newer homes structural damage was generally very minor and mostly cosmetic like broken tile or cracked sheetrock and window frames. However even if your house appears perfectly fine, Homan said it’s not a bad idea to get an inspection, especially if homes in your area sustained substantial damage.
“The inspector will look at the whole house, including what you can’t see like the heating system and flu pipes,” Homan said. “They can identify if anything came apart internally.”
For people on the hunt for a new home, it never hurts to do some additional research. “Disclosure is the key to purchasing. I have become aware that disclosure is not always done,” Mobley said. “The Municipality may be the best source as they have begun compiling data for damaged structures, and are requiring building permits for repairs. With the damage rate less than 5% of the buildings, the risk is not that great.”
If you are one of the thousands of Alaskans who applied for a FEMA grant, stay in touch with the agency. If you disagree with the agency’s decision you have 60 days from the date of the FEMA letter to file an appeal. A common cause for appeal is to request additional funding for repairs to an earthquake-damaged foundation. Submit a contractor’s written estimate specifically for foundation repairs with a signed letter explaining the shortfall. If you experienced delays in getting a contractor estimate contact the FEMA Helpline 800-621-3362 (FEMA) to explain the reason for the delay.
Alaskans will continue to feel the effects of last year’s quake for some time but with state and federal help, and committed contractors, Alaskans will rebuild stronger than ever.