1964 Good Friday Earthquake
A gallery of images showing the destruction caused by the second largest earthquake in recorded history.
Article by Anne Sanders
The Good Friday Earthquake of March 27, 1964, was the most powerful earthquake in U.S. history, and the second largest earthquake in recorded history. The magnitude 9.2 earthquake, which resulted in 131 deaths (115 in Alaska and 16 in Oregon and California), was centered in the Prince William Sound region of Southcentral Alaska.
…multiple fishing boats were sunk as far away as Louisiana.
Buildings and roads in many major cities in Alaska experienced significant damage due to landslides, avalanches, and tsunamis. The cities of Seward and Anchorage lost large portions of their waterfronts. Towns like Portage, in Turnagain Arm and Valdez, in Prince William Sound, were completely destroyed. The town of Valdez was able to relocate, while Portage was never rebuilt.
The earthquake sent vibrations across the world. Along with tsunamis, the earthquake caused waves in isolated bodies of water such as a lakes and boat harbors, a phenomenon called a seiche. As a result, multiple fishing boats were sunk as far away as Louisiana.
The following is a personal account from Don Benson, a member of the Pioneers of Alaska, telling his experience during the earthquake.
“During the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, I was 12 years old and home alone. Our house was next to the old Matanuska Bridge on the Old Glenn Highway. I had just gotten home from school and was sledding. It was warm that day and I was soaking wet! I had the fireplace going to get dry in my underwear when the house started shaking. Then more shaking … so I went to the door, (we had a concrete house), like they tell you to do. I didn’t like it so I went out in the yard. The shaking slowed down and I went back into the house. And when the quake came again in about 2 ½ minutes, it got really strong! The bridge was doing a hula dance and moved about three feet in each direction. I had a collie named Prince who was scared to death and never left my side. I was never scared but hoped the shaking would stop. Five minutes was a long time for the house to shake. The earthquake broke some syrup jars so I thought I would be in trouble.
My mom came home from work to check on me and that is when I found out how bad an earthquake it was! I think if the bridge would have been out, she would have cleared it as fast as she was going! My dad was at the Palmer Airport. He said the ground started shaking and he thought he was having a heart attack! So he pulled over to the side of the road, got out of the pickup and still couldn’t stand up! We had a friend at the Butte with a high frequency short wave radio so we went out to his place and contacted our relatives in the lower 48 and told them our family was fine. I remember there was a lot of construction afterwards but Palmer didn’t get as much damage as did Anchorage, Valdez and Kodiak. Behind my grandparents’ farm on the Outer Springer, there were cracks in the dirt and gravel on the (Matanuska) river that were three feet wide. The cracks would open up and a lot of people said they saw water spraying up in the air when the cracks closed.”
– Excerpt from Don Benson’s story in “Life and Times of Matanuska Valley Pioneers.”