1964 Alaska Earthquake.

Here, listen to this. It recounts the history of the earthquake and centers on Jenny Chance, the “newsgirl” for the local radio station. It is well worth your time.

I’ve started listening, thanks, it is fascinating. Minor nit-pick, though, her name is Genie Chance (like I Dream of Jeannie; like a genie in the bottle). Still listening, thanks again.

From the Wikipedia page, this earthquake was a magnitude 9.2 and it lasted 4 minutes and 38 seconds. OMG! :eek:

That was fascinating. Thanks, Paul. (It is 29 minutes long, I just finished it.)

ChefGuy was there, I’m pretty sure. He’s posted about it.

He’s one of my favorites, by the way. Seems like a real great dude.

Agree with you about Chefguy, and I’d like to hear about his experiences of it.

About that quake’s 4:38 duration, I can’t imagine the ground shaking that long, and at M9.2, for that hard. I was near Candlestick Park in San Francisco for the 17 Oct 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, just before Game 3 of the World Series. The ground shook and did not stop, and I knew it was a big one.

But that quake was only M6.9, and the ground shook for only 15 seconds. M6.9 and 15 seconds, versus M9.2 and 4 minutes and 38 seconds. Incredible.

When I was stationed at the Presidio of Monterey, 1974-5, there was a fellow language student there who told me about the earthquake. She’d been a girl of ten at the time. She described running outside with her family an falling to the ground, to see the ground moving in waves, like water.

The disaster epic Earthquake was popular at the time, with big speakers creating a rumbling sound, called Sensurround. She said what she heard sounded like that, except that it would start and stop, instead of being continuous.

4 minutes 38 seconds. I didn’t know that.

People must have thought the world was coming to an end.

About the only good thing about the Good Friday quake is that it hit in a very lightly-populated corner of North America. I can’t imagine what a mega-quake like this would do in any of the cities/regions potentially facing one.

A forgotten part of the '64 quake was the tsunami that almost completely destroyed Crescent City, a small city in the northwest corner of California. They remember it well, if you visit, and the antiquated warning sirens (looking like huge spiky barrels) are one of the most prominent features of the modest skyline.

I was there a number of years ago and went out to the Battery Point lighthouse, out on a spit from town and which can be walked to at low tide. Up in the light room, the guide pointed to some rocks wayyyyyy t’frack out to sea, and recounted the keeper’s story of seeing them standing on bare seabed when the tsunami pulled the waters back. Then the sea came back, and focused by the shape of the bay (which is why it’s called Crescent City), went over a mile inland to something like 30 feet deep… and then drained back, pulling nearly everything with it.

Just spotted this thread. Yeah, I was a junior at West Anchorage high school in 1964, and remember the event pretty vividly. I also remember Genie Chance, but not in a good way. She sowed panic on the air by telling people that a tsunami was coming and would wipe out west Anchorage. It was bogus information, based on nothing but supposition. My father refused to budge, so it’s good that nothing came of it. :smiley:

Luckily, it was Good Friday, so schools were closed and there were no after-school activities going on. The top floor of my school collapsed and an elementary school up on Government Hill broke in half.

We had just sat down to dinner when we heard a rumble, like a train coming. My mother said “Earthquake!” My father got as far as “That’s not a damn. . .” when the primary shock wave hit like Thor’s hammer. My mother yelled “My dishes!” (people react to disaster in the oddest ways), and my father jumped up to try to hold a kitchen cupboard closed (see above parenthetical). I took off running for the front door as the secondary waves started things rolling and the house was shaking violently.

Somehow, I kept my feet, getting to the living room in time to see my mother’s china cabinet, which was slamming against the wall, disgorge it’s now-shattered contents onto the carpet. I actually made it out the front door onto the sidewalk before being knocked off my feet.

I sat on the ground watching the world doing crazy things. The top of the birch tree in our yard was slapping the ground; all of the parked cars on our street were sliding back and forth a couple of feet in each direction, the tires screaming like some sort of demented beings. I looked down the street, where there was a 15 story building (the tallest in Anchorage at the time) and saw chunks of concrete flying off of it. And suddenly, from the other direction, I heard a deafening crash and saw a plume of snow rise into the air. It turned out to be the newly constructed (and as yet unoccupied) Four Seasons apartment building, which had collapsed.

Our house survived, as did most of our immediate neighborhood. A neighbor kid yelled “Hey, let’s go downtown!”, so I jumped into his brother’s car and off we went. We didn’t yet understand the magnitude of what had happened, or we wouldn’t have done that. The first thing we saw was chaos on the main streets of 4th and 5th Avenues. Half of 4th was gone, having suffered severe subsidence. I remember looking at the marquee of the Denali Theater and trying to comprehend why the rest of the building wasn’t visible. On 5th, the facade of the J.C. Penny building had sloughed off and crushed cars and pedestrians alike. We beat it for home.

After arriving back home, we tried to put the inside of the house back in order. There was broken glass everywhere. My father had a lump on his head where he got clocked by a condiment bottle, and I remember a smear of mustard in his hair. Odd what sticks in your mind after a trauma.

It was already getting twilight. Remember, this was March in Alaska, which meant that night came quickly. There was no power and no water. We sat there looking at each other, and there came a knock on the door. When I opened it, there was my best friend at the time with his entire family: mom, dad and two sisters. They looked like refugees, which they indeed were. Their home was very close to the subsidence area and under the shadow of a large hotel that had been severely damaged. The were told to evacuate, so they came to our house. Along the way, they picked up a woman who was wondering dazed in the street. She spoke no English and was clearly in shock.

When Chance put a scare into everyone, this family took off for high ground, but then returned a couple hours later when the panic left. They spent the next couple of days with us, sleeping on the floor of our tiny place.

The reaction to the disaster was very quick. The National Guard was called out to patrol city streets and prevent any looting. Tents were set up on the central park strip blocks, and water buffaloes (water tanks on wheels) were brought in along with truckloads of C-rations and immersion heaters to warm the food for anyone in need. I went out with my camera on day two and shot up a lot of B&W film of the devastation. While our house was okay, three blocks away, the fault line had ripped through neighborhoods on it’s way to the downtown area, collapsing houses or knocking them off their foundations. What we didn’t know was that the suburb of Turnagain Heights had suffered the worst damage, with a lot of houses sliding down the bluff and people being killed. The Red Cross did not have its finest hour. While they showed up to help, they ultimately sent people bills for their assistance and were charging for things like blankets. They are, to this day, a struggling presence in Alaska, as memories are very long.

Just clicked on the link in the OP. The first photo is 4th Avenue. The second photo is Point Woronzof, where the Turnagain neighborhood was. The third photo is the apartment building near my house, which would have been located about two blocks to the left. That photo is looking west, toward Cook Inlet. One block east was Providence Hospital, which was remarkably undamaged.


Great account. Thanks.

Wow Chefguy, so cool to read your firsthand account! I grew up hearing about it my grandparents are from Anchorage. My grandmother was a buyer for some huge downtown store and my grandpa was a diesel mechanic who worked civil service for the govt. He was out on a remote radar site in the Aleutians when it hit, he had no idea if my grandma survived or not. The experience certainly colored the rest of their lives.

Jeezo, Chefguy, that’s a hell of a story.

is thankful to live on a seismologically uninteresting chunk of rock

Just imagine if the quake had hit in the dead of winter.

The loss of life would have been so much higher.

Chefguy have an up-vote.

March is still winter in Alaska. There was still snow on the ground at the time. We had a Coleman stove, like most people in Alaska had, so could at least heat water and food. And my parents had installed a Franklin stove, so we had heat. The military issued “Jerry cans” for water, but it still needed to be treated with bleach. My father paid attention and titrated the correct amount, but my friend’s father was a panicky type and dumped about a cup of bleach into the five gallon can. My mother, a coffee addict, nearly vomited her morning dose next day. I remember her and my friend’s mother drinking cooking sherry that afternoon.

The biggest loss of life was on the Kenai Peninsula, where the tsunami hit. The town of Valdez was nearly wiped off the map and much of the fishing fleet was destroyed. Anchorage suffered a lot of property damage, but the death toll was very low. I had one friend who ran out his front door and promptly fell about ten feet, breaking his leg. While his house survived, the front porch had disappeared. Another friend of ours was injured when he ran his car into a wall created when the road he was driving on cracked and dropped about six feet. I said that our house was not damaged, but it was thrown out of plumb. We didn’t find that out until we installed bookshelves a year later and discovered about a half inch difference between ceiling and floor.

Thank you for the information. It’s always interesting to hear from someone that actually experienced these events.

Just to clarify what the numbers really mean – the Moment Magnitude Scale (formerly Richter Scale) measures the total energy released by the earthquake. A very rough formula would be something like X (intensity of shaking) times Y (length of shake time); part of the reason the Alaska Quake rates so high is precisely because it lasted such an ungodly length of time.