Day of Remembrance

Yesterday was the 57th anniversary of The Great Alaska Good Friday Earthquake.

This was probably the most profound event of my life and it has had life-long effects.

This magnitude 9.2 megathrust earthquake, lasted four minutes and thirty-eight seconds. It was, and remains, the most powerful earthquake recorded in North American history, and the second most powerful recorded in world history. 115 lives were lost in Alaska. Effects were felt around the world. There was tsunami damage not only in Alaska but throughout the Pacific region, resulting in 16 lives lost in Oregon and California. Seiche waves (waves in an enclosed or partially enclosed body of water, like a boat harbor or swimming pool) were noted as far away as Louisiana, where a number of fishing boats were sunk. Oscillations in the height of water in wells were reported as far away as South Africa.

Click on this picture to watch a short video about the event:

govt hill

The pieces in this picture used to be one building, an elementary school in Anchorage

I was an eight-year old child when the Earthquake hit.  My teenaged brother was outside having a snowball fight with the neighbors; I was at the kitchen table mixing up some pancake batter to cook for a quick dinner so my brother and I could go to the movies.  When the table first shook, I thought it was because of the electric mixer I was using. I turned it off and when I turned it back on all the dishes came flying out of the cupboards. My brother ran in, picked me up, carried me out of the house, and put me in the car. Then he went back for the dog. When she was in the car with me, I wailed at him to rescue my turtles, which he did. (Such a nice brother!)

Our house was not badly damaged. There were other houses, however, that were not just damaged or destroyed (my piano teacher’s house, just a block away, was snapped in two) — they were Gone. The ground under one particular neighborhood in Anchorage, Turnagain Heights, collapsed into Cook Inlet.

I think this may be when I, even though just a child, started understanding the absolute necessity that we must be as prepared and self-reliant as possible.

Only one hospital was left functioning and, naturally, it and first responders were immediately overwhelmed.  Most of the time the first responders were whoever was nearby – like the people who rescued a woman from her car after a concrete slab from the JC Penney building crushed it.

Many roads were impassable.  Though my brother and I were home at the time, my Mom was at work.  She spent some frantic hours trying to get home to us.  My dad was out of the state on business when the earthquake hit. Communications were down and he didn’t know if we were even alive for three days.

Help from Outside (Alaskans call the rest of the world “Outside”) was not easily obtained – not just because of the distance from the rest of the United States but because roads, airports, and seaports were damaged or destroyed.  There were towns in Alaska that did not have their one road in and out of town repaired for months.  I think it was a year before we could drive down the Seward Highway all the way from Anchorage through to the city of Seward. Even then, you could still see boats from the harbor and train cars from the railroad that had been thrown across to the opposite side of town.  In many areas on that particular trip, the road was gravel – they just poured it in on top of where the road used to be.

Groceries?  New supplies weren’t coming in a hurry.  Bills due?  My mom couldn’t go back to work for weeks because of the damage to her office.  Less than a month later, my father had been killed in a plane crash after taking the governor with supplies and a survey team to Valdez – one of the towns that had been completely wiped out.

My memories of that day and the time after, although overwhelmed with visions of destruction of property and devastation of lives, also include that there were so many heroes and helpers and acts of service and communities working together. Some of these I witnessed, some I heard about, some will never be known. Like I said before, this event and it’s aftermath, affected me to my core.


For several years now, Alaska has recognized March 27th as a Remembrance Day for this historic event. Here is this year’s proclamation from Alaska’s Governor:

Great Alaska Good Friday Earthquake Remembrance Day

March 26, 2021

WHEREAS, emergency preparedness is extremely vital for survival in times of crisis; and

WHEREAS, as one of the world’s most seismically active regions, Alaska is highly vulnerable to earthquakes. Of the 20 largest earthquakes in United States history, 16 of them have occurred in Alaska; and

WHEREAS, on March 27, 1964, Alaska was devastated by the Great Alaska Good Friday Earthquake. With a magnitude of 9.2, it was the most powerful earthquake in United States history, the second most powerful recorded worldwide, and in its wake shattered numerous Alaskan communities; and

WHEREAS, the damage of resulting landslides, avalanches, and tsunamis was severe and devastating. In Alaska, Oregon, and California 131 lives were lost along with the damage and destruction of millions of dollars in infrastructure; and

WHEREAS, on this day, the 57th anniversary, we are reminded just how precious life is and we honor all those whose lives were lost or affected by this colossal force of nature, including the courageous first responders, servicemen, and volunteers who sacrificed their time, energy, and lives to assist rescue and relief efforts; and

WHEREAS, we celebrate and honor Alaskans supporting each other and collaborating to rebuild affected communities; providing us with inspiring examples of determination and sense of community; and

WHEREAS, although this day shattered many families, communities, and Alaska as a whole, it forged a safer path forward for our Great State and our nation by advancing our knowledge of earthquake preparedness and earthquake sciences. Planning, emergency kits, and regular practice drills are vital for all Alaskans to be better prepared for the next natural disaster or emergency.

NOW THEREFORE, I, Mike Dunleavy, GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF ALASKA, do hereby proclaim March 27, 2021 as:

Great Alaska Good Friday Earthquake Remembrance Day

in Alaska, and on this 57th anniversary of the Great Alaska Earthquake, encourage all Alaskans to educate themselves on earthquake safety procedures, participate in commemorative activities, such as exhibits, conferences, and planned community emergency response exercises, and to remember those whose lives were lost that fateful day. I also order all State flags to be lowered to half-staff on March 27, 2021.

Source: Office of Governor Mike Dunleavy

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