Rocky Plotnick

My dad’s store, Union Leader, was on the block of 4th Ave. that sunk two stories. That day I had been shopping downtown with a classmate. We were going to wait at dad’s store for a ride home but her dad was able to get us earlier. So when the quake hit we were in her Airport Heights home reading Beatles’ magazines. I remember standing in the hallway of the house hanging on for dear life. The noise was horrific. It was a bit like being on a small boat in confused and stormy seas. But worse. When it finally stopped I called my mom at home to tell her I was okay. Then I walked home listening to an odd silence. Dad showed up that evening – his store and inventory destroyed. As darkness covered Anchorage, I starred out at the lack of lights from downtown. Only an occasional car light appeared. We listened to Genie Chance on the radio as she relayed messages between friends & family reporting their status. My grandpa (Commissioner of Commerce Abe Romick) flew up from Juneau with Governor Bill Egan to inspect the damage. Fifty years ago today and I remember it like it was yesterday.

Rocky Plotnick

Patrick Hames

At the time of the earthquake, I was an A2C (E3) stationed with the 5040th CAM Grp Hq. The building was shared with the Air Police Sq. and was across the street from Hangar 1. I was cleaning Col. Hubbs office when I began to hear loud noises in the building that I thought were coming from the Air Police changing shift. When I felt the building moving, I went into the hallway and noticed several Air Policemen looking every which way. We all ran out the front door. There was a water tower in front of the building and it was swaying a lot. I ran far enough so that if it fell, I would be clear. After the worse of the tremors, I went to my barracks and changed into my fatigues and returned to the office. Col. Hubbs called looking for his driver who couldn’t be located. For a couple of days I drove the Col. around to the various squadrons for which he was responsible.

The chow halls were closed for some period; I don’t remember how long. We were issued c rations which still had cigarettes included that had patriotic messages on them, such as “Buy War Bonds”.

Eric W. Clark

I was a little over six years old at the time of the 64 quake, so this is what I remember. We lived near Jewel lake, I don’t remember the streets in that area having names, there was a large wooden sign at the end of our street like the forest service would have at camp grounds with the name Jewel Lake Small Tracts, no one had mail delivery you had to go to the post office in Spenard to get your mail. It was not until a few years later our area finally had named streets ours was Jade Street. Just like anyone else who experienced the earthquake especially at a young age it was dinner time and you were watching Fireball XL5 one minute and the next it was the end of the world.

My parents came to Alaska in the 1940’s my dad came up with the Army Air Corps, and was a radio operator for the 10th Air Sea Rescue, after his service he started work for the Alaska Rail Road as a helper in the radio department he ended his career in 1977 as the Chief Communications Officer. My mother had come up to Alaska with a friend via the Alaska Steamship Company; they had come up to Alaska to work in the Tuberculosis Sanitariums for the Jessie Lee home in Seward. That is where my parents met in Seward; they were married there in 1950.

We lived on a 2 ½ acre lot and had another 2 ½ acre lot across the street, My dad had received the land that was given to veterans in the early 1950’s with the requirement they had to build a livable structure in a set amount of time. My dad had never built a home before, and it was a learning experience for him, with many of the parts like the plumbing and electrical system being ordered from the Sears catalog. It was a small wood frame 2 bedroom home it was 24 X 32, it was sturdy as it was a bit overbuilt. It was on wooden piling foundation, the walls and floor were constructed of 1X6 tongue and groove set at a 45° angle, then plywood over that, on the exterior it also had a layer of that old brown fiberboard, then tar paper, and finally lap siding.

jewel

JEWEL LAKE HOME 1950s

My Parents had just purchased a new TV for Christmas so it was only 3 month old, and for us to be able to watch “our show” at dinner time was a great thing. Sometime during the our show the earthquake hit, we were use to having earthquakes so at first we just sat there, then after what could not have been more than a few seconds it was apparent that this was not the usual quake, I can’t remember what was said if anything but we all started to get up and get out of the house after the TV fell over. We had a small arctic entry at the back of the house that we always used to enter the home or exit; we made our way out of the home my parents in the lead followed by my brother with me in the back. As we were making our way out through the small kitchen and out the back door the house would sway and roll with the ground waves. It was difficult to stand up much less walk. As the house would roll in one direction the kitchen cabinets and cupboards would open and dishes and pots and pans would fly out, then the house would roll to the other side and those cabinets and cupboards would close and the cabinets and cupboards on the other side would open and boxed and can goods would fly out. As we reached the arctic entry I fell down, no one noticed since it was quite a chaotic and somewhat terrifying experience, it seemed like it was every man for himself at that point, I crawled outside and stood up my dad said to get into the car which was a 1962 VW beetle we sat in that car bouncing up and down and sideways all at the same time. While we were sitting in the car my dad shut the power to the house off and turned off the propane at the tank valve. As I remember the sound it was a loud low pitched rumble somewhat like a train. The ground had waves and the trees pitched back and forth. There was a birch tree in our yard that branched out into a large Y, this tree split down the middle. In the days after the earthquake we slept in the living room on a hide-a-bed and couch to keep us all together and feeling somewhat safer as there were many aftershocks.

Our home did not sustain any damage other than the log-cribbed cesspool caved in. That summer my dad added cement piers under the house to augment the wooden pilings just in case we had another big earthquake.

My dad was working for the railroad and had responsibility to keep the communications lines and microwave stations from Anchorage to Seward up and running. Immediately after the earthquake he was working to get the communication systems up-and running. He had volunteered to walk to Portage with a power supply for the microwave station but his supervisors would not allow that as it would have been too dangerous. My dad finally was able to get a ride on an Army Corps of Engineers helicopter to Portage. He spent a few days and nights at Portage on the roof of a microwave station with some other employees, with a generator and 3 pumps trying to keep the water out of the building. My dad also worked on getting the phone lines to Seward up, as the railroad tracks and telephone poles at the Seward side of Kenai Lake had “disappeared” and all but radio communications towards Seward was unavailable.

The earthquake seemed to go on forever but it did stop, it did leave me with a lifetime fear of earthquakes and it has been only in the last 8-10 years when we have an earthquake at night where I don’t wake up and bolt out of bed yelling EARTHQUAKE start to run for the door, now I just wake up and wait for it to stop.

Eric W Clark

William Ziesemer

I was stationed at Elmendorf during the earthquake as an Air Policeman. I still remember when the quake happened. We were in the basement floor of the air police headquarters when the wooden building began to shake. One airman said a bomb, while a couple of others said earthquake. We ran out of the building and hung on to the wire mesh fence across the street. The road looked like waves in the ocean. All of the air police trucks looked like they were dancing as they were bouncing up and down. A bunch of us ran and put the emergency brakes on and that helped stop the moving. Then a staff sergeant told me to go into the building and search for injured. The building was still swaying, but I checked every room. Everybody had gotten out. It was a long day, as I was up at 5 am and worked one of the gates on base. Then I was on the swat team, if that is what you want to call it. Ten airman had to be on call after our shift. What a long night, they put me at the bank guarding it along with the bank workers. The next morning we drove around the base looking for more injured. I finally got to bed and 4 pm.

What I still remember is one airman took his sleeping bag and stayed by the front door on the first floor. His room was on the third floor. About a week later, I had the top bunk, we had an after shock. The wall began to crack and the crack went all the way down the wall. My roommate and I headed for the door. By that time in shock quit. I was not able to call home until Sunday, as the only information out was by ham radio. I was working in the Alaska Air Command Headquarters, checking ID, as the place was busy on Sunday. This First Lt, asked me if I called home yet. He let me use the phone to call my parents.

James Boyd Midlothian

The following is my recollection of Friday, March 27, 1964.

It was 5:30 pm and I had just finished my shower. I was planning a night out on the town since I had turned 20 yrs. old three days earlier. I was sitting in the barracks at the Kodiak Naval Base reading the week old Oklahoma City Times. I barely got through the front page and noticed a little shaking of the paper in my hands. I dismissed it, thinking it was one of the sub hunters revving its engines at the nearby hangar. Suddenly the closed and latched doors of the lockers in front of me sprang open. I and one other seaman yelled simultaneously “it’s an earthquake”.

The barracks and showers were full of Seabees and Marines getting ready for the weekend parties. Most were partially or completely naked. It was very hard to remain on your feet as we all headed for the stairs at the same time. We pretty much went down in a pile. I remember standing on the bottom step of the doorway to the barracks and watching lightning on the ground. The ground was alive. All around you and as far as you could see the ground was splitting with cracks from as wide as an inch to hairline cracks. The power poles were all swaying in unison. Water and Gas lines were breaking underground all around. And at the same time you felt like you were standing on a giant vibrator.

The one thing I remember most while I was standing there in my shorts was where did all the girls come from. We rarely saw a female on base. And there must have been 8 or 10 screaming girls and women within a few yards of our barracks. Never figured out where they came from. Of course liberty was canceled and we were ordered to muster. The Seabees were in charge of the Motor Pool on base. We provided services to the base in all phases of transportation. As well as snow removal and road repair on the Island. My first assigned task was to transport a squad of armed Marines to the town of Kodiak. The first wave had hit and took out the town. It took about an hour and a half to get there because of the condition of the roads.

Rock slides had blocked many areas and we had to clear the road before proceeding. When we arrived I couldn’t believe the destruction. The streets were littered with everything from rifles to cash. Looting was already taking place. The buildings that were on the waterfront were all displaced and in the middle of what used to be the streets. Over the next 24 hours, the tides became increasingly higher and higher. Soon the base power plant was under water and we lost all power to the base.

Our entire Company spent the next two weeks working 12 to 15 hour days doing whatever we could to help anyone that needed it. I remember when the C130 arrived from Seattle with the replacement power plant. Word was that it took over two days to get it loaded and secured on the plane and we had it unloaded and operational in about 18 hours.

When my tour of duty was finished I was able to spend some time in Anchorage while on the way back to the States. I have since been in another earthquake while visiting California. Two is enough. I ‘m glad I live Texas. I am now 63 years old and I plan to drive the Alcan Highway next summer. Sure hope the ground ain’t shakin’.

Thanks for the opportunity to share this experience, James Boyd Midlothian, Texas

Anne B. Royster

My family and I were living on Cherry Hill on Elemendorf. It was Good Friday and we were getting ready to go to the base officer’s club for dinner. I was in the basement of the base housing getting socks out of the dryer. My oldest brother (about 16 or 18) was down the street visiting friends. My parents, other brother and younger sister were upstairs on the main floor.

I heard this loud roar and my father yelling for us to get out of the house. I was running up the steps which was a real chore since cans were flying off the shelf at the top of the steps (our pantry) and each step was in a different place than the one before, i.e., step up and then down….once I finally reached the top, I ran out behind my mother who was carrying my sister. Dad stayed in the house and the rest of us stayed on the ground in the parking lot. We were behind parked vehicles and every vehicle was moving in a different direction than the one beside it. Eventually we saw my oldest brother trying to run home. He was staggering like he’d been drinking but it was the movement of the earth. He finally reached us and Dad had us get into the family car where we stayed for quite a while. When we finally got to go back into the house, it was a wreck. Not structurally but the contents. It was as if someone took a huge mixing spoon and just had at it.

My parents had had a party not too many days before the earthquake and there was cocktail sauce all over the floor, there was pepto-bismol from the cabinet, mercurochrome and all of this along with the rest of the contents of the refrigerator and cabinets was being mixed together by the freestanding dishwasher. It was a mess. My father used snow and the snow shovel to help clean it up. My mother had just received a brand new set of china for Christmas and the only thing left was a cup and saucer. The rest was on the floor, broken from the china cabinet, though it still stood where it had been.

Everything was going to be ok until my brother went upstairs and flushed the toilet – thereafter we had to melt snow in order to flush!

There were a lot of aftershocks. Some seemed just as hard as the original. My dad tied a pencil to a string and hung it from the ceiling and told us if it writes our name on the ceiling, then it’s time to get out.

I remember he was called back to duty and told us to stay in the house and not to let anyone in because people were starting to loot for fuel and money, etc. We are a family that always had firearms and so my mother and older brother were knowledgeable in using them. We didn’t have but one problem with someone coming close to the house. My mother encouraged them to move away.

After a few days, we ventured into Anchorage and saw all the damage. I was about 9 years old (10 in July) and remember almost all of what happened and what we saw but didn’t realize the enormity of it all.

One story I remember is my mother worked for the Girl Scout Council in Anchorage. Her boss lived across from those apartments that were totally destroyed. She had two huge dressers sitting side by side on linoleum tile floors. When they got back to the house, the dressers were where they had always been, but the design on the floor that the dressers caused by the movements, made an interesting track. People came out and actually took pictures of the floor to try to trace the movement. I have pictures somewhere I will try to recover. They are in slide format.

Anyway – that’s pretty much my recollections of the Great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964. We moved to Virginia in 1965. Where my father retired from Langley AFB.

Anne B. Royster

Kathleen Wright – Elmendorf

Thank you so very much for this website. I appreciate the stories. There are few people who actually know what I mean when I say earthquake.

I live in Eureka, CA now, we had a 6.5 in January, 2010. This event brought it all back; the ’64 quake went on forever. It went on so long that I thought that’s how life would be, like standing on a pitching boat. The earth makes a sound when it rips apart. I can’t describe it, but you know it’s a living thing being ripped apart. The quake here, I felt my viscera gather, my insides clenched.

The 1964 Anchorage earthquake – I was 11, my Dad was stationed at Elmendorf.

I felt the house shake and my Mom screamed earthquake. At first you think it’s a sonic boom, or a truck running down the dirt road too fast making the house shake and windows rattle, and then it picked up speed, slammed into the house and everything shook, violently for five minutes. The floor left my feet. I slammed into the wall which became the floor and back. She stuffed my sister and me into the closet, safe under the coats.

Pictures on the wall were flew to perpendicular and then crashed to the floor. Looking out of the window, you could see telephone poles whip back and forth and the power lines snap free from the poles, showering sparks, you would see sky, then ground, furniture scrambled, cupboard doors opened and dishes shot right past us and crashed against the wall. And, it was deafening. It roared in your ears and your ears rang from it. After the quake, my Mom and sister and I went to find my Dad on-base, (Elmendorf). He worked in a two-story brick building on a grassy knoll. There was another earthquake right as we pulled up, there were guys yelling and jumping out of second story windows to the ground.

My Mom, who was a force of nature, grabbed us and marched up the front stairs and confronted the biggest, blackest AP (Air Police) I’ve ever seen. And, all he would say is “No, Mam”. “You can’t go in there. Everyone is fine”. Push, shove. “No, Mam”. He barricaded the door with his body and a rifle. He’s the only person I ever saw stop my Mom. I think having the gun helped.

We left, went home and waited for Dad to show up. A breakfront cabinet had fallen against the door to the small room between the kitchen and garage. (We living off base in small house in a place called Nunaka Valley). It was my job to clean up the mess of dishes and the like so we could move the break-front and get into the small room that had an oil-fired heater. The kitchen floor was covered with cinnamon sugar, sprinkle on toast – yum. Now, not so much, can’t stand the scent of cinnamon anymore. We moved the breakfront, Mom started the heater and that’s where we stayed for the longest time. It was March in Alaska. Night came. So cold. No water, no electricity, we used a coffee can for well… you know. The hot water heater, broken free from the connection, spewed water everywhere, it turned to ice. The only dishes we had were in the dishwasher. I still have a hard time unloading the damn thing. They seem safe there.

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