An Alaska earthquake can be very minor, even if they do happen frequently. You can usually feel one as a small jolt or just a slight tremor of the ground.
If you are moving around or driving a car, you don't usually feel them at all. It's only when you are sitting still or walking slowly that you will notice an earthquake.
You get used to an Alaska earthquake when you feel them several times a month and don't pay attention anymore. The small ones don't even shake hard enough to do any damage. They're just interesting. In fact, according to an Alaska Volcano Observatory, there are over 1,000 earthquakes that are recorded each year. Though I'm sure you don't even feel many of these at all.
Occasionally you'll feel an earthquake that is a bit stronger and may give you a fairly sharp jolt. That will make you stop whatever you are doing! It's like a warning sign, so you wait a second to see if anything else is going to happen. And of course, it usually doesn't. So you go on with your life.
However, there have been several pretty good jolts in the last century, but the only really damaging one was the 1964 earthquake. That Alaska earthquake is one that most people who lived through it won't ever forget!
My Alaska Earthquake Story (this is a long story because there is so much to tell):
Fortunately for me, I did not lose any family members during the 1964 earthquake. I could have, but I believe Providence was with us.
I worked for a diabetic woman in Anchorage at the time, taking care of her while I went to high school. She had a very nice home on the east side of town. It was Good Friday, so the schools were closed, fortunately.
Around 5:30 in the afternoon, an earthquake started. I didn't think much of it, even though it was rather strong. But when it didn't quit shaking after a minute or two—and it WAS rather rough—I decided to go outside and see what was happening. That might have been a rather dumb idea, but I was more curious than afraid.
Of course, to get outside, I had to hang onto the walls and furniture because the house was shaking so hard, I couldn't stand up! And her lovely china teacup sets that were on little wall-shelves were falling on the floor, as well as anything else that was loose.
But I managed to get to the back door, open it and stand on the porch. What I saw was fascinating. The birch trees, which are very common in Alaska, were doing an interesting dance! When the ground shifted one direction, the whole tops of the birches would swoop down and touch the ground on one side. Then the ground shifted the other direction and the tree tops swooped down and touched the ground on the opposite side of the tree! These were 2-foot tree trunks and they didn't even snap off!
The next thing I noticed was the line of parked cars on the street. I was looking at the back end of them and they were bouncing from side to side—on two tires at a time!
That's all there was to see so I went back inside, assuming it would stop shaking shortly. It did slow down after that, so I thought it was over. But it started shaking harder again! When it finally did stop, we had a lot of things to handle besides cleaning up. We had to scrape the top layer of snow off the ground and scoop up the clean snow underneath to melt for drinking water. Luckily it was fairly deep, so there was clean snow!
By night time, everyone was visiting everyone else and no one wanted to go to bed—except me of course! Not even a great big earthquake could keep me awake!
But here's the great part I didn't tell yet (at least to a teenager). Because the schools had received some damage and there wasn't time to repair it all, the schools were closed for awhile and they graduated the Senior Class early that year. And the best part is, it was my senior year! The graduation ceremony for both East and West High School students was held in a hangar at Elmendorf Air Force Base. It was about the only place big enough, that was safe!
Now, I'll tell you a few other parts to the Good Friday earthquake story that I saw myself, or know about personally.
By record, it actually lasted almost 5 minutes and was quite rough. If that was all, the destruction wouldn't have been too terrible. However, the quake caused a tsunami, or tidal wave, which destroyed a lot of villages and unfortunately a number of people lost their lives in it.
In Anchorage, the front wall peeled off the 5-story JC Penney's building and fell in the street. The building was only 1 year old and had not been built earthquake-proof! So they rebuilt it into a 3-story building which WAS earthquake-proof.
The Chrysler dealership had constructed huge cement blocks on a field that was going to be the location of their new building. The earthquake toppled the blocks and Chrysler didn't rebuild at that time.
Fourth Avenue runs along the edge of the bank that goes down into the railroad and ship yards at the Anchorage dock. All of the buildings on that side of the street dropped so the roofs were almost at street level. These were all business buildings and one was a movie theater.
My parents and younger brothers and sisters were living at the homesite on DeArmoun Road. Mom said that when the earthquake started, everyone ran out of the house and the dogs ran in! Our dogs had never been in the house before, so you can imagine they were quite frightened!
Another interesting fact—the house my family lived in was just sitting on a temporary foundation of upright logs. Dad had built the house but he never nailed the floor structure to the logs. And the house was sitting on the edge of Rabit Creek Valley, which was about 200 feet deep. That house didn't even move one inch off of its position on those logs! Amazing!
Later, Dad drove down DeArmoun Road to the Seward Highway. He only went a short distance down the Highway before he had to stop. There was a crack wide enough in the road that he couldn't cross it. He got out and looked into it and said he couldn't see the bottom!
There are hundreds of stories about the damage done by this Alaska earthquake which you can probably find elsewhere, as well as many pictures of the damage.
Today, there is a section of Anchorage along Turnagain Arm that had been a very nice residential district, which is now called, "Earthquake Park". All those beautiful homes were destroyed in the 1964 earthquake and the structures have been left there, as is.
The tsunami or tidal wave that this Alaska earthquake produced, did much more damage than the earthquake itself. It caused tremendous amounts of damage in the towns of Kodiak, Valdez and Seward. It also completely wiped out some of the small native villages that existed on islands or along the coast. And years later, you could still see debris in the woods behind Seward—as far as the tidal wave went!
Fortunately 99% of all Alaska earthquakes do not do any damage. They just make you a little nervous, until you get used to them. Now I hope I have reassured you some.
Yes, Alaska earthquakes can be quite damaging just as they could anyplace else. But the likelihood of another great Alaskan earthquake happening anytime in the near future is almost non-existent. So relax! Enjoy the tremors and don't loose any sleep over them, OK? What I haven't mentioned is that very small Alaska earthquakes are often a signal of something entirely different - Alaska volcanoes—a little hotter subject...
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