1964 Good Friday Earthquake
A gallery of images showing the destruction caused by the second largest earthquake in recorded history.
Article by Anne Sanders
Aerial photo of Portage, Alaska townsite after the 1964 Alaska earthquake, taken near railroad siding. The townsite, and in general most land on the seaward side of the Seward Highway, was rendered unusable by 6 feet of subsidence and subsequent flooding at higher tides. Photo: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. 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 waterfront at Seward, Alaska, a few months after the earthquake. Photo: USGS 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.
"Ghost Forest" Palmer Hay Flats caused by the sinking landscape. Photo: Wikimedia Commons. 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.”
Coastal uplift in Prince William Sound. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
Seldovia flooding after earthquake. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
Fourth Ave. in Anchorage after the earthquake ripped up the streets and demolished buildings. Photo: U.S. Geological Survey [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Radical changes in sea level near Valdez, Alaska following 1964 Alaska Good Friday Earthquake. Photo: Wikimedia Commons. From the Historic C&GS Collection.
Good Friday Earthquake damage in Girdwood, Alaska - 1964. Photo: U.S. National Archives, via Wikimedia Commons
Damage along the Turnagain Arm. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Damage to the Government Hill School in Anchorage. Photo: W.R. Hansen, U.S. Geological Survey, via Wikimedia Commons.
Landslide damage in the Turnagain Heights neighborhood of Anchorage, Alaska. Photo: USGS
Tsunamis caused by the Good Friday Earthquake drove a 2x6 plank through this 10-ply truck tire at Whittier, Alaska. Photo: USGS
Destruction in the harbor in Kodiak. By U.S. Department of Defense (U.S. Navy All Hands magazine July 1964, p. 10.), via Wikimedia Commons
Just read this article today October-11-2020
Very informative and the photos are incredible!
Thanks for posting it!
I was watching Mighty Mouse. And the TV was suddenly flying right at me. My dad yanked me out of the way just in time.
Mr. Morrison, My dad was stationed at Elmendorf as well. I saw the damage done on the base. It was far larger than most know. And I remember well the way the entire earth literally rolled and bucked like it was waves on the ocean. I’ll never forget it. I couldn’t stand up to save my soul. I was pitched around like a rag doll and remember seeing my some of my siblings do the same. The youngest of us were still babies and my parents held them close.
Strangest of all, to me at least, is the absolutely eerie silence that followed. Silence truly does have its own sound. I heard it that day.
Thank you for sharing!. (And yes, I know I’m late to this party. :)
We were stationed at Elmendorf too, or rather my dad was. He’d just walked in the door in his dress blues when it hit. I saw a lot of the damage done on base, and around Anchorage as well, as my father made it a point to let us see just what Mother Nature truly is capable of. And we were moved onto the base within the first 48 hours. I was 8 at the time. He’s 85 today. I’ll bet the two of you knew each other. He was a tech sergeant.
Thank you, Cecil. What you say is very true. I cannot believe the number of people who have no idea this ever happened when it’s the biggest quake this continent has ever experienced. Alaska’s God’s country, that’s for sure, but Mother Nature had her own say that day. I was 8 years old, my dad stationed at Elmendorf when it hit. This event changed my life too in ways I’m just now coming to realize, and I’m 64. But I remember that day with crystal clear clarity. I’ll never forget it.
Lori Cypher I also remember watching cartoons that day… I was 4 years old. We lived in a trailer on Golovin st. in Anchorage… I remember watching cartoons, and they trailer was shaking, I watched as our refrigerator come out of its place and go back in like 3 times… and the lime jello my mother made was splattered all over the floor. I remember we walked over to the neighbors after the quake. I remember asking my mother why the water in our sink was brown… lol I had heard my dad over the years tell others about that day. He was at a bar on 4th avenue, he had just ordered a drink and had it in his hand, and felt the earth quake, he said he had just bought a brand new volvo, he ran outside to check on the car, the crack that was under his new car went out and back in a few times, he didnt lose the car.. and he said he also didn’t spill a drop of his drink during the whole thing!! I hope he downed that drink, I know I would have!
Looking for a friend named Steve Wilson, would be about 76 years old today. He was a then-Air Policeman at Elmendorf working ramp security when the earthquake hit . Any help??
I moved back to the lower states just before the quake. My father was still there. I always wondered if the giant cracks in the earth was a precursor to the quake.
I was in the third grade at Creekside Elementary living in the Turpin housing are by Muldoon Road. My dad was a captain in the Air Force at Elmendorf Air Force Base. My mom was frying shrimp on the stove in a cast iron skillet which all fell in the floor when the earthquake started and everyone else was in the living room waiting for Fireball XL5 to come on TV. I was outside alone holding a giant ice cickle I was going to show my 5 siblings. I dropped it when the earthquake started. The next door neighbors came running out of their house and were yelling for me to pray because its the end of the world. Marshall law was in effect the next day but my Dad and I drove around in a staff Air Force car looking at the damage. We went to the Turnigan Arms addition where a lot of the land broke off and went out into the sea, taking houses with it.
Janet, You said you were from Whittier .Can you remember any story from there that left a 4 yr. old girl orphaned? I apparently was adopted and just found out 2 yrs ago. I’m 60 now and am trying to find my actual roots.I remember the tidal wave and I was on top of that old military building watching it. I ended up in N.Y .I think my real father was in the military.Thank you…
omg what tragedy.
Although I am not an Alaskan. down here in New Zealand, we felt (at least, I did) the tailender of this one. Felt like a deep thump!
I was 8 at the time all by myself watching Fireball XL5 when the “big one” occurred. Pretty scary. What stick in my memory the most was having to put all our refrigerator stuff outside in the snow and those awful three series typhoid shots we had to take a few days after.
I was in it too . Just got out of the 4th Ave theater and rode it out hanging onto a parking meter .
It was a holiday and we didnt have school . I wonder why Don went to school that day . I was 12 also
Wow, some stories here! Thanks for the tidal upheaval photo. I understand the heave in Cordova was 11 feet, and pretty much ended their razor clam industry.
Although I have long since forgotten their names I knew every longshoreman working the SS Chena on the docks at Valdez that day.
We lived in Anchorage at that time. My husband was in the Air National Guard and worked civil service for the ANG. That morning our neighbor had hit our car coming around the corner and he and my husband were on there way home from a visit to the insurance company. They were near Spenard Rd by the Montgomery Wards store and thought the tires were going flat because they were bumping so much. Then they saw bricks popping out and someone running out holding their head.
At home, dishes were flying out of the cupboard and in the driveway we had a vehicle that moved sideways many feet. Our bed was turned completely around in the bedroom as well. The neighborhood got together and we stayed in one home to save on fuel because we weren’t sure what was going to happen. A very frightening time and one I will never forget.
I was 6 years old also at the time of the 1964 quake. My father Captain Donald Poe was stationed at Elmendorf AFB. As with many of you I was sitting watching cartoons when it hit. My mother was frying pork chops in the kitchen preparing supper. All of a sudden cabinet doors opened. Cans rolled out onto the floor and were rolling around. The refrigerator door opened spilling its contents and a glass ice tea pitcher fell out and crashed on the floor. There probably would have been A grease fire had it not been for the bag of flour falling out of the cabinet and pouring its contents into the frying pork chops. The china cabinets doors opened and all my mothers wedding china crashed on the floor. Very little survived. My dad who was upstairs changing out of his uniform came running and grabbed my hysterical mother and I and rushed us outside. We were in base housing in an area called Cherry Hill. High above Cooks Inlet. Families of 6 were in each building clustered around a playground in the center. After the shaking stopped my dad knew he had to go back into the base. My dads boss said his wife was alone so he told my dad to take us to his house. So we stayed there for several days while the men were getting things in order after the disaster. And I remember the aftershocks! I was told to get out of the house and go stand on the front porch if I ever felt anything. I remember waking up feeling my bed moving for many days and weeks after the earthquake. The slightest movement would send me running downstairs and out to the front porch. There I would be standing and seeing other families standing on their front porch , And there would be many other times where I would make the dash to the front porch and be standing there alone in the dark or in the day and never see any people. I had been traumatized by the earthquake of 1964.
I’m pretty sure it was traditional puppets. You could see the wires that supported them sometimes. I wonder how many of us were sitting in front of the TV when the quake hit? I also remember my mom standing in the kitchen slapping the cabinet doors shut and my sister keeping the Easter Eggs we were coloring corraled on the dining room table.
I was in the Air Force stationed at Elmendorf AFB, when the earthquake hit. I was 20 years old. I remember going to the base bowling alley, and questioned a man what happened. He laughed, and stated he threw one ball and got ten strikes. Four of us spent three nights in a 1954 Ford. We had C rations for a number of days, and at a kindly Staff Sergeants home until called to the base for duty. It was an experience I, of course, will not forget. Thank you for all the pictures!
I was 5 at the time. We lived in Palmer. My brother took me outside and put me on top of the car. I watched a man get out of his car to check it and the wave in the pavement started moving his car away.
My mom was 5 at the time and was jumping on my aunt’s bed when it started. My aunt started yelling at her to get OUT. But my mom thought she started the earthquake by jumping on the bed, and hid under the bed. My aunt came and got her out. She said, as she was running through the house, the dishes were flying out of the cabinets. My mom and aunt got out safety. To this day she still thinks she started the earthquake…lol
Oh, and the Sea Rations the army gave out. Those were so cool, for us too young to do the worrying.
I was also 6, and my three brothers and one sister and I were watching Fireball XL5. Mom was cooking and when she realized it was a big earthquake, got us all out in the back yard but my sister and I kept trying to run under the carport, which was freaking mom out. I very clearly remember thinking the sky was falling. Must have recently read Chicken Little. And I remember dad going downtown to collect water in jugs from the army water trucks. And my mom putting a drop of Clorox in the water until it was safe to drink again. And coffee cans for toilets. We stayed with friends in their trailer in Peterscreek area for a bit. Had Easter egg hunt out there in he snow. Dear Hertha and Chris.
Fireball XL5 was a claymation show. ??