I have lived in Alaska for about seven years. During that time I have experienced more natural hazards here than I ever experienced in any of the other states that I have lived in. As I considered which place in Alaska is the most hazardous I looked back at history and considered which parts of Alaska have experienced the worst natural disasters in the past.
After considering all of the evidence I was forced to conclude that the most dangerous part of Alaska is the area of Southcentral Alaska from Anchorage to Valdez, including the northern part of the Kenai Peninsula and the coastline from the Kenai Peninsula to Anchorage and the coastline from the Kenai Peninsula to Valdez.
As the Alaska department of Geological and Geophysical Surveys noted on their website, “geologic processes only become hazards when humans get in their way; if there were no people affected, we would find these natural phenomena interesting, but not concerning.” Thus, what makes a geologic process dangerous is the presence or absence of humans. One of the reasons that I chose Southcentral Alaska from Anchorage to Valdez as the most dangerous place in Alaska is because that is where the most people live in Alaska.
One of the natural hazards that affects this area of Alaska is earthquakes. Southern Alaska is particularly vulnerable to earthquakes because it is just north of the Alaska-Aleutian Megathrust, which is a major fault to the south of Alaska.
The worst natural disaster in Alaska’s history was the Good Friday Earthquake of 1964. The epicenter of this magnitude 9.2 earthquake was about halfway between Anchorage and Valdez. The earthquake caused severe damage and casualties in both communities. Over 30 people died in Valdez as a result of the earthquake and the tsunami that it caused. Following the earthquake, the people of Valdez decided to move their town to a new location a few miles away.
Anchorage had another large earthquake in November 2018. I lived through that earthquake and it was really scary. The epicenter of this earthquake was ten miles north of Anchorage. A tsunami warning was issued after the earthquake but no tsunami ever materialized. The reason that large earthquakes are so significant is the potential loss of human life and damage to communities and property.
Another natural hazard that affects this area of Alaska is avalanches. In 2014, a huge avalanche in Keystone Canyon closed the only road into Valdez for awhile. Valdez is one of the snowiest cities in the United States and is prone to avalanches in the surrounding area. Avalanches happen from time to time along the Seward Highway south of Anchorage as well. Avalanches are significant because they could result in the loss of human life if people get buried by the avalanche. Also, avalanches can close roads and temporarily disrupt transportation of supplies to a community.
The area along the coast between Anchorage and Valdez are also vulnerable to flooding. Most places in Alaska are in danger of one or more natural hazards such as fires, volcanoes, etc. Fairbanks also experiences earthquakes. However, it has not suffered as severe of earthquakes as the area between Anchorage and Valdez has.
Alaska Department of Geological and Geophysical Surveys. 2020. “Geologic Hazards.” Accessed February 8, 2020. https://dggs.alaska.gov/hazards/index.html