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A Rockin' Weekend in Sitka

Posted by alaskagetaway on February 23, 2014

It’s midnight on a Friday in early January. You’re in Sitka, Alaska.  You are minding your own business, contentedly editing video footage of summer fly-fishing highlights on your dining room table. The voices in you head are mostly those of your favorite clients. They are playing through your headphones. You are trying to make their words tell a story and set it to music.  It’s all about trying to create a feeling.

Then the world begins to shake.

A seismic wave is making your water front house undulate like a boat on the ocean.

Now, you are holding your only child in your arms.

Think forward, stay centered, reassure.  Big hug.

Next, the voice of the government is ordering you and your family to evacuate your home immediately. 

The voice is coming over the phone, the radio, and through the air into your house.  EMERGENCY EVACUATION !

Now, it’s like packing for a camping trip, but different.  Sleeping bags, water, flashlights, etc… a lot of the items are the same.  But it’s different. 

You, your wife, and child need to leave your house, along with everyone else, as quickly as possible, to the sound of sirens. Many, many sirens.  Lots of flashing lights. 

Traffic jam in Sitka.

This is not normal.

It starts at the end of the driveway.  It’s an almost uninterrupted uphill standstill.  Then it moves. Slowly.  We take a quick glance at the ocean through the car window.  How high is the water?  We wonder as we turn toward the designated Tsunami Evacuation Center at Sitka High School.  Abbey can’t immediately locate the tidebook in one of the ten bags that we hurriedly tossed into the Suburban.  Check the tide online on the iPhone; no law against that. Yet.

Try to call a friend who lives at the top of a hill.  He has back up power and plenty of room for us.  Call does not go through.

Find tide info online in traffic.  Tide should be pretty low.  Traffic is converging upon a choke point at top of a hill where the high school sits. Bumper to bumper.  There are going to be a lot of cars, flashing lights, megaphone voices and officiousness if we proceed up to the prescribed evacuation center.  We are almost to the uniformed traffic conductor at the top of the hill.

Dial my friend Jimmy again.

It’s ringing.

“Dude, what’s up?  Lot of excitement, huh?”


“Are you going to hang?”


“Can we come over?”


“OK, we’ll be there soon, gotta go, bye.”

Cop is waving me into the parking lot / holding area.

I roll down my window, “I want to go right, (opposite of the direction that everyone else is going), I point to the right.  He continues to wave me left.  His way leads to a dead end of noise, lights, exhaust, in two words…

Homeland Security.

According to The Associated Press, the Sitka Police Chief said,

"Initially, in the first 15 to 20 minutes, there might have been a bit of panic."

At this moment, waiting behind me were all the rest of the cars that comprised by far the greatest traffic snarl in at least the generation that I’d lived in Sitka.  The cop continued to wave me toward the High School parking lot.

I said again, “I want to go right.”  I pointed.  Downhill, that way.

“OK, you want to go that way,” he said.  “Go ahead.”

Traffic situation instantly switched from all taillights to all headlights, as we headed down Lake Street.  The ultimate reverse commute. 

Wow, rollers, comin’ at us.  Black & Whites with their red and blues rollin’.  Sitka’s finest coming at us in our lane.  Pull over.  They pass, we continue downhill. 

Radio update.

A magnitude 7.5 earthquake has been recorded approximately 90 miles Northwest of (Abbey asks a question)…Karen and I don’t hear the location.

We are feeling good to be out of traffic, picking up speed toward the roundabout, soon to be at a comfortable location on relatively high ground. 

Radio update continues. 

The first wave is expected to hit Sitka at approximately 12:43 AM. 

“OK, honey, what time is it now?”

12:42 AM.

Well, suddenly you’re glad that you’ve got the Vortec V8 and optional rally fun pack as you experience the Sitka roundabout as never before.  Now the empty low-lying gauntlet of Sawmill Creek Road beckons the Chevy past 60 mph for the first time in Sitka.

A glance over the right shoulder reveals reflected light on the ocean.

No epic wave noticed.

Now the denouement.

We drove up our friend Jimmy’s hill.  Went inside.  Chatted, got a call, traded a few texts. Eventually got some official updates. 

I poured a rich, golden brown Alaskan Brewing Company Winter Ale into a full sized pilsner glass, pulled the arm on one of the big reclining chairs, and I wondered about the fate of an unknown number of Sitka’s citizens who were serving as guinea pigs at our local Tsunami Evacuation Center.


We got the all clear a couple hours after we arrived. 

We almost went home that night, but we decided to stay in the Baranof Room at Jimmy’s and Abbey slept late on Jimmy’s couch.

Later that day, on Saturday afternoon, I went back over to our friend Jimmy’s and he helped me process a Sitka Black-Tail Deer.  Preparing the world’s finest red meat with one’s own hands with a good friend is one of the real treats of life in Sitka.  And few things in the world make a good glass of beer taste better than a late afternoon sausage-making session with some locally caught game. 



Next thing you know, it’s Saturday Night in Sitka.

Time to share a marinated venison tenderloin and a glass of red wine with your wife.

Bon Apetit.

This winter weekend in Sitka really rocked !

Back to school tomorrow…

Tectonic Summary

The January 5, 2013 M 7.5 earthquake off the west coast of southeastern Alaska occurred as a result of shallow strike-slip faulting on or near the plate boundary between the Pacific and North America plates.  At the location of this earthquake, the Pacific plate is moving approximately northwestward with respect to the North America plate at a velocity of 51 mm/yr.