On November 30, 2018, at 8:29 a.m., a magnitude 7.1 earthquake hit southcentral Alaska. Hundreds of aftershocks followed, leaving Alaskan residents in recovery mode and uneasy for months to come.
November 30 is the feast day of Saint Andrew, and it is no small irony that the parish that suffered the most damage from the “Saint Andrew’s Day Earthquake” was Saint Andrew Parish in Eagle River. “Saint Andrew Parish is insured at a replacement value of 13 million dollars, and sustained an estimated 2 million dollars in damages,” said Monika Scott, Chief Financial Officer in the Archdiocese of Anchorage. Scott coordinated the Archdiocesan Disasters Grant application to the United States Council of Catholic Bishops.
“There has been tremendous support from the parish, beginning with the community-wide clean up the day after the earthquake,” said Fr. Arthur Roraff, pastor at Saint Andrew Parish. “We sent out a notice on the internet to come by the parish the next day. Over 150 people showed up. I think the church was cleaner the day after the earthquake than it had been since it was built 12 years ago.”
Saint Andrew Parish experienced significant cosmetic and structural damage, “Drywall throughout the parish, cracks in the concrete slab (including a major one through the narthex that went from one side of the building to the other), cracks throughout the parking lot asphalt, about 35 substantial superficial cracks on the outside of the building and cracking along the brickwork,” said Fr. Roraff. “Four chandeliers fell, and piping for the boiler system throughout the church was damaged. We also had some damage to artwork, including statues and stained glass.”
Despite the damage, Saint Andrew’s cleanup process is well underway. “We intentionally waited 6-9 months to start any non-essential projects because of the potential damage a sizable aftershock could cause,” said Fr. Roraff. “We are currently well into the reconstruction phase. Our chapels are complete, and the narthex will be complete by Christmas. We will then begin work on the nave. In the summer, we will address what is left to fix on the exterior of the building.
“We have also had tremendous financial support from the parishioners, as well as people from other parishes or no parishes at all,” said Fr. Roraff. “I think overall, it has had a bonding effect. We went through the St. Andrew Day Earthquake together, and that is something we now share.”
Saint Patrick Parish, located in Anchorage, experienced most of its damage to its JPII House, formerly the rectory, which had been used as gathering space for its ministries until the quake. “St. Patrick’s contractors have determined that the JPII house is not viable for repairs, which means that the parish will need to demolish the building and rebuild a new facility in a new location in order to accommodate their present requirement for ministry space,” said Monika Scott. “The estimated replacement appraisal of this one facility at St. Patrick’s is in excess of 1.2 million dollars.”
“We had minor damage to the church and the hall,” said John Gagnon, Business Manager at St. Patrick Parish. “The older the building, the better it did, and the closer we were to Muldoon, the better soil we had. Our two old buildings on the corner came out okay, but the JPII House is a total loss. It was only 38 years old. The building sank substantially on one side, the basement floor cracked, and mud and water came up through the floor.”
St. Patrick Parish hired an extra part-time person on staff, Joe Cline, to help with the FEMA process. “If we replace the building, there’s a discussion process about what we could build and what it might look like,” said Gagnon. “Our assistance will be limited to the lot’s square footage, but it could be a substantial grant. Either way, it’s a multi-year process.”
In the meantime, Saint Patrick Parish has taken steps to accommodate the lost space.
“We made significant renovations to the atrium in our corner building for our Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program,” said Gagnon. “We renovated the space to be two atriums instead of one.”
Like Saint Patrick Parish, Saint Benedict Parish’s damage was not primarily to its church building, but another structure on the property. “I join all of the Anchorage community in giving thanks that there was no loss of life in the largest quake to hit the Anchorage Bowl since the ‘big one,’” said Fr. Tom Lilly, pastor of St. Benedict Parish. “While we were rattled quite a bit, the damage was mostly limited to our gymnasium and some minor damage in the church.
“In emergency situations, hospitals are the number one priority to fix first, but schools are number two,” said Danna Hoellering, Parish Business Manager at Saint Benedict Parish. “Lumen Christi High School opened school earlier than any other school in the district, missing just two days instead of a full week.”
“During the earthquake, the school’s fire suppression system -a wet system- was damaged, and dumped water all over the gym floor. The water found the lowest points and seeped into the floor,” said Hoellering. “We did our best to dry it out, but we didn’t know the full extent of the damage, or if there was any deeper damage, we couldn’t see in the winter. So we began the FEMA application process in early 2019.”
When summer began, and the heat dried out the floor completely, the floor became damaged beyond repair. “FEMA has pretty strict requirements for a job over $10,000,” said Hoellering. “There’s a more strict contract, multiple bids, and a lot more paperwork. We were very blessed, though, because school damage is considered a critical focus by FEMA.”
During the Fall 2019 school semester, the school has had its basketball and volleyball games at other facilities while the floor has been under repairs. “Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton School was wonderful in letting us use their gym space for practices,” said Hoellering. “We want to thank our sister school and the community for the support. The FEMA reps have been wonderful, full of information, and quick to respond we really appreciate the help!”
Lumen Christi High School’s gym repairs were completed on December 2, in time to re-open for a middle school basketball game, where the home team won by one point. Saint Benedict’s other earthquake projects, including a retaining wall and their outreach building, will be fixed later down the road this coming summer.
Holy Spirit Center, Saint Anthony Parish, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, and Catholic Social Services – all of Anchorage – also experienced varying levels of structural and cosmetic damage to their properties. There was minimal damage to other archdiocesan properties in the south central region. “The unfortunate way that our earthquake insurance works is that the deductible is 5% of each building’s insured value, and the payment for claims on each location maxes out at $500,000,” said Scott. “Only about $1 million of the $2.69 million in damages will be covered by insurance.”
The USCCB provided a grant of $600,000 to the Archdiocese to help offset the financial strain many parishes are experiencing. While there is still much work to be done, Archdiocesan residents remain hopeful, and with one more story to tell: where were you during the “Saint Andrew’s Day Earthquake?”