Eagle River residents seek answers as huge scope of earthquake recovery becomes clear

Thursday, January 17, 2019 - 12:25
  • Meeting attendees pack the multipurpose room at Alpenglow Elementary for a public meeting on earthquake relief efforts held Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Anchorage School District superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop talks to members of the public following a public meeting on earthquake recovery efforts Alpenglow Elementary on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • People line up outside the multipurpose room at Alpenglow Elementary for a public meeting on earthquake relief efforts held Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz listens to a question during a public meeting on earthquake recovery efforts Alpenglow Elementary on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)

Last month’s earthquake may be a distant memory for some, but in Chugiak-Eagle River the after-effects from the magnitude 7.0 quake continue to reverberate.

About 200 people attended a public meeting on quake relief efforts with municipal, state and federal officials Wednesday night at Alpenglow Elementary. Many in the crowd asked when and if more resources will be available to help repair homes and businesses in the hard-hit Eagle River Valley, where some of the most significant damage took place.

“How soon can we expect some help?” asked Eagle River’s Jesse James, whose family has been living in temporary emergency housing at the Eagle River Microtel since their home was “red-tagged” following the Nov. 30 quake.

Officials promised help is on the way, but reminded residents the recovery effort is still in its early stages.

“We have to eat the elephant in one bite at a time,” said Sam Walton, branch chief of the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Disaster Recovery.

The state is still in the process of evaluating quake damage from around the state, a process division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management incident commander Bryan Fisher should be wrapped up by the weekend. Once that’s done, Gov. Mike Dunleavy will evaluate the scope of the damage and request a federal disaster declaration from President Trump.

“The intent is to get that to the White House by the end of the year,” he said.

If the president declares a federal disaster it will allow residents to apply for up to $35,000 in FEMA grants. However, Fisher said a state disaster has already been declared and people affected can already apply for up to $17,500 in state grants.

“The good news is the state does have a program in place,” he said.

If federal money becomes available, people can apply for both grants but can only receive up to the maximum about — meaning whatever someone gets from the state would be deducted from the amount they could get from FEMA. Officials said the money does not have to be repaid, but can only go toward “essential” items (such as water heaters) and not personal items like broken televisions or damaged artwork.

Fisher said more than 6,000 Alaskans have already applied for state help through ready.alaska.gov, and said people can also call 1-855-445-7131 for assistance. He also said anyone in need of mental health assistance or counseling can visit carelinealaska.com or call 1-877-266-4357.

Federal low-interest loans could also become available for business owners and nonprofits if a federal disaster is declared, said Small Business Administration district director Nancy Porzio.

“The minute a disaster is declared, loan applications will be available,” she said.

For people facing repair bills that could far exceed the amount of federal grants available, there are no easy answers, Walton said.

“The ugly reality is this is really bad,” he said.

Meeting participants included Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and Anchorage School District superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop. Some people expressed concerns about the transition of Eagle River Elementary students to other area schools, pointing out that some students have been getting to school late. One parent also said a previous breakfast program offered at Eagle River Elementary isn’t offered by the district at the new schools and has instead been taken up by the schools’ PTA and Student Leadership Councils.

Bishop promised to look into both issues but said she didn’t have specific answers Thursday night. Students will be out of school for more than two weeks for winter break starting Friday.

Berkowitz said the public can help speed the process of federal relief by contacting both Alaska’s congressional delegation and the president himself.

“They need to hear from people on a regular basis,” he said.

Correction: A previous version of this story said students have three weeks off for winter break. Students get 12 school days off and are out of school for a total of 17 days.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected] or call 257-4274

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