Alaska and Earthquakes

2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the great 1964 earthquake that hit Anchorage, Alaska.

Many folks in Anchorage called it the Good Friday Quake because it hit the city on March 27,  1964.

It lasted three minutes and was the most powerful earthquake to hit the North American Continent registering 9.2 on the Ricter Scale.  Most of downtown Anchorage was heavily damaged.  One side of 4th avenue dropped about 20 feet,  and a large portion of the city simply slipped into the Cook Inlet.   That area was afterward called “Earthquake Park.”

When visitors would come to Anchorage, we always made a point of showing them 4th avenue and Earthquake Park.   They were the most visible reminders of the terrible damage that the quake had done to the city.

The view of the city from Earthquake Park in 1974, where many homes slipped ino the Cook Inlet.

The view of the city from Earthquake Park in 1974, where many homes slipped ino the Cook Inlet.

Ten years later in 1974 we arrived in Anchorage.  After the Vietnam War, I had been assigned there to fly F-4 Phantom II missions intercepting Soviet aircraft off the coast of Alaska.

Our arrival in Alaska occurred in May and it was a shock to see the sun in the sky at 11 p.m., but we quickly accustomed ourselves to this phenomenon. In the winter, the days were only about 4 hours long.

The fact of earthquakes was always with us.  While we were there several occured, but not on the scale of the great 1964 event.  They would often come while I was at work, where  the upper floor of our base headquarters would begin to shake.   Or while we were in bed at night, when the books on the shelves above the bed would begin to make what my wife called the “ticka ticka noise.”  This indicated that a quake was happening long before we actually felt it.

On New Year’s Eve 1975, I had gone to the local store to purchase some wine for a party.  I had no sooner gotten in the store,  when the floor and all the wine and liquor bottles began to shake.  This went on for about 20-30 seconds, although it seemed a lot longer at the time.   There was little damage to the store — but the thought did cross my mind, what should I do if the windows start to collapse and the shelves fall.

When I got home my wife commented that things really began to shake in the house.  She said, “I didn’t know whether to grab the stereo cabinet or to hold on to some knick-knacks.”

My answer to her came pretty quickly: “Always grab the stereo cabinet!”

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About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
This entry was posted in Air Force, Alaska, American History, Anchorage, Earthquake, Norvell Family History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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