Aftershocks in Chignik Bay, as community evaluates emergency infrastructure after earthquake

Aug 4, 2020

The community is still feeling tremors from the earthquake, causing some side effects. Chignik Bay is also looking to improve emergency infrastructure after last month's evacuation.

Credit City of Chignik Bay

Chignik residents are still feeling the effects of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit 75 miles south of the region on July 21.

“Even last night, there was a tremor in the middle of the night,” said Rachael Allen, a commercial fisher in Chignik Bay last thursday.

When NOAA issued a tsunami warning the night of the earthquake, Allen and her crew gathered together and went to higher ground. She says the evacuation revealed problems in the region’s emergency infrastructure.

"Yeah, it was really scary and we had to sit up there for a couple hours," Allen said. "We got up there and there was so much traffic. There was no place to turn around. There’s no communication up where we all had to go. So we were all in the dark for what the tsunami warning was.”

Mayor Guy Ashby struggled to make phone calls to the state’s emergency center that night, which he says was due to poor connection with GCI cell towers -- a common problem in the Chigniks this summer.

“Our communications with GCI cells were just horrible," Ashby said. "I mean, it would take me 15-20 minutes just to make a phone call to the state just to find out what’s going on.”

GCI found that a power amplifier used to send calls out of Chignik to the satellite was overheating due to clogs from dust and pollen. Vice President of Communications, Heather Handyside, said a crew was dispatched to repair the screens after the earthquake.

"We worked with a local operator to fabricate and make some screens to minimize the clogging further," Hadnyside said. "We installed those, and things seem to have improved since that time. We actually sent out a crew out there to check and see if things are normal. ”

Handyside adds that the crew was on the ground Monday. 

The earthquake also had other side effects. A water main broke in Chignik Bay the following week. City officials say that could have been caused by the lingering tremors. That repair was finished within a day and did not affect the village’s water supply. Residents also witnessed rock slides generating dust across the bay.

Tremors from the earthquake are expected to continue in the coming months, but they will become less frequent. That’s according to state seismologist Mike West. Even though there were no tsunami waves that night, he said incidents like these help communities prepare for future events.

“People need to remain vigilant," West said. "It is worth their time and effort to go through that exercise. Not all of these earthquakes are going to generate a big tsunami but any one of them really is capable. That earthquake, had it been slightly different, very subtle waves, could have produced a very significant tsunami wave.”

Ashby also wants to work with the state to build an evacuation shelter in the event of future earthquakes or tsunami warnings. 

Contact the author tyler@kdlg.org or call 907-842-2200