Pair of earthquakes rattles Whitehorse

A pair of earthquakes struck the Yukon, B.C. and Alaska this morning. The U.S. Geological Survey reported a 6.2-magnitude quake just after 5:30 a.m. Pacific Time and another of 6.3 around 7:18.

Updated:

Residents in the southern Yukon were jolted awake by a pair of earthquakes that struck the Yukon, B.C. and Alaska May 1.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported a 6.2-magnitude quake just after 5:30 a.m. Pacific Time and another of 6.3 around 7:18. The epicenter of the two main quakes was approximately 85 km northwest of Skagway. There have been numerous aftershocks.

The government said no injuries have been reported.

Power was disrupted for approximately 8,000 residents in the Southern Lakes, Carcross and Tagish areas and some parts of Whitehorse. ATCO Electric Yukon said it had restored power to most residents by 7:15 a.m., only to briefly lose power again when the second quake hit. Power was fully restored to Whitehorse by 8 a.m. and to Teslin shortly before 11 a.m.

Some structural damage has been reported at the Lynn Building in downtown Whitehorse, which has visible cracks to its exterior. The building was evacuated and is currently closed.

Yukon Energy has inspected its dams and LNG facility and found no structural issues, said spokesperson Janet Patterson.

Several local businesses suffered minor damage.

“It shook pretty hard out there,” said Lee Willet, who owns the Cutoff restaurant outside Whitehorse. “Lots of bottles fell, luckily most were plastic. We lost a few decorative old bottles and in our front room a lot of glassware came down and smashed.”

The quake shook toys and other products fall from shelves of Angelina’s Toy Boutique at Horwoods Mall in downtown Whitehorse, but staff have since cleaned things up. Nothing was damaged.

“We had a few things displaced,” said owner Betty Burns. “It just needed a quick tidy.”

Shaking could be felt as far away as Juneau, reported the Juneau Empire.

“A 6.3, 6.4, 6.5 magnitude quake like this one, it’s scary as hell if you’re right on top of it,” said Michael West, a seismologist at the geophysical institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

It’s not only the scale of an earthquake which determines its severity and impact, West said, but the population density and type of buildings in the area the quake occurs in. The May 1 quakes were the same magnitude as ones that killed 250 people in Italy last August, he said.

“It’s all about location,” he said. “Had this morning’s quake occurred directly under Whitehorse things would be very different. People need to be respectful of a quake this size.”

The quake occurred along the Denali Fault, a “well known fault structure,” in northwestern Canada and Alaska,” West said. Quakes are common along the coast of British Columbia and into Alaska along the Denali Fault, but are less frequent and severe further inland.

“The location is not a surprise,” he said, “but they’re fairly infrequent (at this magnitude).”

Yukon Protective Services tweeted that the Department of Highways and Public Works will be checking roads and bridges for structural damage.

Elijah Smith School in Whitehorse was closed for the day while the building was inspected by structural engineers.

The school reopened May 2 except for the library which opened a day later.

Whitehorse Elementary students played outside for the morning. Classes resumed after engineers gave the all-clear.

The Department of Education said Ross River school is still closed due to cracks in the foundation. It is expected to be inspected today.

Officials don’t know whether the earthquakes caused the cracks to appear, or if they were caused by other events, such as frost heaving, said Scott Milton, acting assistant manager of property management with Highways and Public Works.

The school will remain closed until it can be assessed, Milton said.

“We can’t comment on how long it will be closed until after the assessment,” he said.

Cracks appeared in St. Elias School in Haines Junction, but the school has been cleared to reopen by Highways and Public Works.

The Department of Community Services said the Blanchard River highway camp, on the Yukon-B.C. border and close to the quake epicentre, was damaged and is closed.

The quake broke a few dishes and caused minor damage to pipes resulting in some spilled glycol, but the roads in the area remain “in good shape,” said Clint Ireland, director of transportation maintenance with HPW.

Community Services Minister John Streicker said in the legislature that Highways and Public Works crews would be conducting aerial surveys to check the South Klondike and Haines roads for structural damage.

The threat of landslides or avalanches in the along the Haines Highway is “very real,” West said.

With files from Chris Windeyer and Ashley Joannou

Contact Lori Garrison at lori.garrison@yukon-news.com

This story was last updated May 3, 2017 at 2:00 pm

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