Clark H. Jillson

I was 18 and a resident of Fairbanks and had never been to Anchorage before, but was there attending the Community College taking a two month class in surveying and soils testing. I was staying in a boarding house on K Street that was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Bill Langford. Classes were over for the day and the rest of the boarders and I were just sitting down for supper, about to enjoy the meal that “Mother” [as we called her] had prepared for us. Suddenly there was a tremor that lasted only a few seconds.

One of the boarders said casually, “Hmm, earthquake.” Then it really hit with all it’s might. Everything was rocking and rolling. The cupboards in the kitchen all emptied out all over the place. Some of the stuff landed in a huge bowl of gravy that mother was preparing, slashing it all over her. I yelled out, “Let’s get out of here!” It was hard to stand but we all made it out of the back door that was only a few feet away. I remember one guy stumbled over to a nearby picket fence and managed to hold on to it. I grabbed the corner of the house and was holding on to that.

Looking down I saw the earth open and then close right between my feet. Looking up I saw the brick chimney swaying back and forth. I figured I was about to get it right on my head. Oddly enough it held together. Looking across the street I saw huge trees swaying from side to side. How they didn’t snap I will never know. The sound generated sounded to me like I was standing next to a railroad track with a train roaring past with the sound of continually breaking glass in the background. The air was full of the odor of natural gas. And then it was over.

A young girl of about 15 suddenly was running down our driveway screaming at the top of her lungs. My landlord’s son grabbed her as she ran by him, and just in time too for the whole backyard and rear portion of the house dropped down about 10 ft. From somewhere down the street I heard a man yelling, “Don’t light any matches!”
We all gathered together and found that nobody had been hurt. I went down to the end of K St. and looked out over Cook Inlet. Where earlier it had been frozen over solid the ice was now pulverized and the water level had dropped dramatically. Coming back up K St. I stopped at the intersection of 4th Ave. to gaze downtown. Just then an Anchorage policeman pulled up and asked if I would direct traffic at that corner. I told him I would and he left saying, “Don’t let anyone downtown!” I stayed there for a few hours. Traffic was almost nonexistent.

One man did pull up to me and said he had to get downtown. I told him that the police wanted nobody to go down there. He then told me that he was going through anyhow because his mother was down there. I let him pass without any argument.

Later as the sun was going down I remember looking downtown as big flakes of snow started to slowly fall. It was very quiet. I thought to myself [being a child of the Cold War] that this is how it would be after a nuclear attack. We all stayed in the house that night even though part of it was gone. My alarm clock had fallen off of the night stand beside my bed and was broken. It was the only thing I lost to the earthquake, and I have it to this day.

The next day we were told that we had to evacuate the house. The Langfords were fortunate enough to find a place where all of us tenants could stay together. I stayed there with them until my class was completed in May. I went home to Fairbanks and never saw any of them again. A few years later I moved to New York State. I understand that the area where the boarding house once stood is now a parking lot. These memories are as vivid today as they were then. I certainly will never forget.

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