On March 27, 1964 at 5.36 pm a 9.2 earthquake hit Alaska. The good news was that it was Good Friday afternoon and the downtown area was empty, which meant that the death toll was not as bad as it could have been. It lasted for four minutes and thirty-eight seconds. It was the most powerful earthquake in U.S and North American history and still holds the record for the second most powerful in the world. The strongest is the 1960 earthquake in Chile. The earth buckled and dropped and actually caused soil liquefaction in the area.
The guide on the Trolley tour told us a personal story. Her husband was eleven at the time. He was sitting in the dentist chair having emergency dental work done. The dentist had just injected Novocain into his gum when everything shook. The room they were in dropped, but did not collapse because of the supports beams that were built to hold the hydraulic chair. They suffered no injuries and he thought the shaking was due to the Novocain.
We drove past the high school on the tour. She told us that the boys’ basketball team had a championship game scheduled at 5 pm on that day. The parents complained, so the principal rescheduled it for the next morning. The school was destroyed.
The Trolley parked at Earthquake Park and the guide described how the neighborhood had dropped 20 feet. One of the passengers told us that he had been in Alaska that day. He was a marine serving at the base. He was at a friend’s house and they were just about to sit down for dinner when the shaking started. He noticed three small children playing on the carpet in front of him and out of the corner of his eye he saw the refrigerator sliding from the kitchen towards them. He shot up and steered it away from them. Everyone survived the shaking but never had Easter dinner. They had no idea what it was but he knew he had to get back to the base. It was the time of the Cold War and he said they thought it was a nuclear attack.
Anchorage was not the only place that was demolished. Port Valdez suffered a massive underwater landslide. A tsunami destroyed the village of Chenga. Post quake tsunamis affected Whittier, Seward, Kodiak and as far away as British Colombia. Oregon and California.
I envision the earthquake being a boiling cauldron in the middle of the earth, pushing and buckling. It was even felt in Johannesburg South Africa, where church bells started ringing, and in Brazil where wells cracked and lost their water.
President Johnson declared the state a disaster area and made funds available and reconstruction began and finished in record time. I never knew that Alaska is on a very active fault and has hundreds of small quakes everyday. But this was a monster.
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