Michael W. Houck – Fort Richardson

I was 7 years old and living at the Fort Richardson Army base when the earthquake occurred. My father was an Air Force pilot and went skiing with some friends for the day at Mt. Aleska. My mother was in Colorado visiting her mother who had a stroke. My two younger sisters and I were at home with a baby sitter when the earthquake hit. Everything started shaking; dishes flew out of the kitchen cabinets and furniture was moving around the room. We had a large glass ball used to hold up fishing nets, displayed on our dining room table. It was shaking and moving towards the edge of the table. I went over and held it on the table to keep it from falling off. Our baby sitter held our china cabinet and kept it from falling over. It was the only china cabinet in the housing complex where we lived that did not fall over. By the time the earthquake ended all the furniture in our home was moved around the room or tipped over.

My dad said he was driving back from skiing and the road in front of him was waving like a flag and the telephone poles along the side of the road were whipping back and forth. He stopped the car until the earthquake stopped. When it was over he continued driving home and stopped at a liquor store along the way. He and his friends were the first ones in the store after the quake. The female clerk was in a mild state of shock and all the bottles of booze were broken on the floor. My dad said he had to wade through two inches of liquor to get to the beer coolers; he grabbed a six pack of canned beer and the clerk said he could have it.

We did not have telephone, water, and electric service for weeks. My mother had no way of knowing we were OK. The fire department came up the street with a water truck to deliver water. My dad cooked on the BBQ. I was not scared during the big earthquake but was frighten during the larger aftershocks. My mom made it home about a week after Easter; I had saved a big chocolate bunny that I got from the Easter Bunny, for her to see.

Janet Hill Irwin – Elemendorf

I too lived in Alaska on March 27th, 1964. My father was stationed at Elemendorf and we lived on Beech Street across from the Aurora Elementary school. My mother and my two brothers and my sister and I were all home and my father was on the way home in a car. When the quake started the dog had been uncomfortable for a few minutes. We tried to leave through the front door and it got stuck in the door jamb so we lay down on the floor and said probably three decats of the rosary while the floor rose and dropped and the noise was deafening.

After it was over my mother sent me down the street with a Valium for her friend that worked at the little corner store near our house. She had a feeling that the woman was going to need one. I was in 6th grade and terrified to have been sent out and about and I was sure it was not the last of the shaking. The one vivid thing that will never leave my memory was the smell. It was as if the entire planet burped and the smell was one of dirt and natural gas and oil and other unidentifiable odors. I’ve smelled things similar in my garden after tilling but not as pungent as 1964.

When my father got home from work we were already putting the contents of the cabinets that were now on the floor in boxes for the trash and my father began putting the things from the fridge out in the snow bank to keep the fresh.

We were leaving Alaska in less than a month and some of my mother’s treasures were in boxes already. The dishes in the dish washer were untouched. The person who was supposed to empty it that day didn’t get yelled at for neglecting their chores. We had visitors that evening. Families whose husbands worked with him came for the overnight as the men headed back to the F102 hangers. I slept with a three or four year old little girl in my lap that night while sitting on the couch. I bolted out the door several times with that child as I vowed I’d not be caught indoors again during an aftershock.

We all did wonder if the base pool cracked and whether the water drained out or not. My sister and I roamed before we left in some off limits area…we did it all the time…we took the drainage ditch between our housing and Cherry Hill and went to see if we could see large cracks in the planet and we did. There were boards and duct tape across the halls where the floors had cracked in school. We were not too happy to have to cross them on the way to music class.

My younger brother was supposed to make his first Communion that Saturday at the larger Chapel near the base theater but due to some damage we had to go the smaller chapel across the base and they made their first Communion on Easter Sunday and while the class of communicants were dressed in their blue suits and white dresses the rest of us wore whatever we wore. Church clothing wasn’t exactly the order of the day.

Three years ago I went back to Alaska with my husband for our 30th anniversary. I didn’t get to Anchorage but we will next time. I can tell you that as I boarded the first plane I had tears in my eyes. I remembered that fateful day and I also remembered those houses in Turnigan that slid to the sea and the demolished school on Government Hill that I passed to go and get my hair cut off base.

I’m sure that I will not be the only one sitting quietly at the appointed hour next week on the 45 anniversary an it being a Friday will make it to the day. I’ll probably play a CD I have with the Alaska state song on it and sing along and remember being young and facing death and cheating it.

Janet Hill…….now Irwin

Chris Turner – Anchorage

My mother & I (who had been in the US since 1959) were living with my sister & brother-in-law in Air Force Housing in Artic Boulevard, Anchorage. I was 18 and a senior at West Anchorage High School & I had just returned from a Rotary meeting for foreign students. I remember sitting with my nephew who was watching a television programme and my mother who was cooking the evening meal popped her head in and asked my nephew to stop banging his feet on the floor, then realising that the noise was something else more serious !! It was an earthquake!

We didn’t know quite where to go but thought it might be advisable to stay inside and we all decided the best place was under the large dining table!

I remember looking out of the window at the small snow covered conifer trees that were whipping back & forth. There was a display cabinet in the dining area with many ornaments and the doors were flung open and lots of these ornaments were sent crashing to the floor. The evening meal (a stew) meanwhile was being bounced up & down on the stove and the contents of the saucepan were being deposited all over the kitchen. This was all accompanied by the violent shaking & loud rumbling noises and I think we all wondered whether we would survive. I suppose, in retrospect, the houses being made of wood allowed them to flex without breaking up.

It was a very frightening 3 minutes or so and when it was over we wondered where my brother-in-law had got to as he was (I believe) returning from Elmendorf Air Force base. He did eventually arrive home safely but told us that he was driving at the time of the quake & thought the car had got a flat tyre! He stopped and part of the road was breaking up in front of him.

There was a block of flats on the hill above us, which suffered quite a bit of damage and I have some pictures that I took later on of the area and Anchorage Main Street parts of which had collapsed down to the upper floors of the stores.

Because of the potential risk of a tidal wave (we were near Cook Inlet) we were evacuated to the Air Force base for a night or two & I remember staff at the base clearing up the broken spirit bottles. All were wearing masks because, I assume, the mixture of vapour would have been very overpowering.

As there were many smaller aftershocks occurring throughout the night it was terribly difficult to sleep but we counted ourselves lucky to have escaped unscathed.

After graduating I returned to the UK in July 1964 and I am now retired but I will never forget the experience. In fact I went to see the film ‘earthquake’ at the cinema here many years ago and the sound effects were quite unnerving and realistic taking me right back to that day on March 27th 1964 at 5:36 pm.

William J. Ellis – Anchorage

I’ve just discovered your Great Alaskan earthquake web site and have a personal link to this event – not a recollection, but more of a question. Also, I Googled to see what might be online because I’m thinking of writing a story about the natural disaster story; it has been significant to me since high school; I was growing up when it happened and had been in the general area with my father one year earlier.

Anyway, my aunt, uncle, and cousin lived in Anchorage at the time about one block from the fissure that toppled Penney’s. She wrote dad about her experiences – she was also a favorite aunt of mine and accounts of her travel and documentary influenced my life then and to this day. All three have since deceased. Their daughter survives and I’m not sure I should share their name. My aunt did not run into the street with the others – something about saving dishes and grabbing a mirror in the bedroom to save it, leading her to throw herself on the bed with it and zang-zang-zang wildly around the room. Not much left of the nervous system for a few years, either.

According to her account, while she lay on the bed my uncle and cousin then fought their way to the Anchorage power source, where they shut down the city’s power supply to save further destruction. Gas lines had erupted, power lines were down, and who knows what explosions were possible. I’d like to know more about the extinguishing of the power supply. Anchorage was a 2nd or 3rd career for them so they were semi-retired, older, and there may be younger folks working for the city administration at the time who would still be around. Do you have any suggestions? Meantime, I will start the story with only my vivid memories and compiling other’s recollections, put it online, and watch it grow. Thank you! Warmly, C…

I was a senior at West Anchorage high school when this happened. We were out of school due to Good Friday and that saved a lot of lives. When it hit, we were at Gamble and North lights having just left the downtown area. The car felt like a rolling and rocking sensation. We watched power lines hitting each other and also a gas station on the corner lost its large glass window causing oil cans running all over the street. We had problems getting home as we lived in the Sand lake area and bridges were all damaged. What a mess inside our house. What a terrible night it was aftershocks no electricity, we rescued a lady next door with small children, her husband out in the bush. The next day we assessed the house and found minor damage. Our school was destroyed. We ended up going to our rival school East Anchorage and had to go split days. We graduated that year due to both gyms being damaged out of an Air Force Hanger. What a terrible ordeal, and I know every once in a while I will think about it and realize just what a piece of history that we all lived through.

Lori Lynn – Anchorage

I was 9 years old in 1964. We had lived in Anchorage since 1959. My sister 4 years older than myself was home alone. My Dad worked at 5th and gamble and my Mom was working in the J.C.Penny’s building 2rd floor.

Me and my sister had just finished straighten up the mobile home (we lived at Idle Wheels park) and had opened a pack of cards to play “Go Fish” and the trailer started rocking and rolling. My sister knew we need to get out so she grabbed me and ran. The T.V. was swaying back and forth and she saved me from being hit by it, as we got out.

My dad worked 10 minutes away and it seems like he was at our trailer before the quake stopped. My sister and I were over at the neighbor’s trailer by then and I remember seeing inside their trailer and all the cupboards were open and everything was on the floor. My Dad told us We had to go get my Mom at Penney’s. I remember being so scared that my Mom was dead. I don’t remember how we even got downtown, But after sitting in the car waiting for my Dad to find her, I was so never so happy to see anyone in my whole life.

My Mom was okay, She never did remember how she got out, but she had 2 kids with her that she helped out of the rubble. Our trailer wasn’t damaged much, so our friends whose apt. was damaged moved in with us. So there were 7 kids under 13 with 4 adults staying in a single wide mobile. We boiled snow with Clorox to drink and flush the toilet. My dad and his friend went out every day to help with whatever they could and we have some good pictures of the damages around town.

The after tremors at all times of the day and night really scared us. My Dad sent us “Outside” to Washington state to stay with family for 3 months to calm my Mothers nerves but We were back up there as soon as he let us. We were back and forth to Alaska for the next 10 years. My mom driving the Alcan Highway with my sister and me. They bought a house in Vancouver, WA So I had the choose to finish school in Washington and a year after I graduated I meet and later married a Man that was born in Palmer, AK. He was living in Seaside, Oregon in 1964 and was run out of town by the tsunami wave created by the Alaska earthquake.

My husband is now retired from the Air Force after serving 30 years. I was back in Anchorage in 1995 when my dad passed away.

Thank You for letting me tell you about my experience during the quake Only someone that was there really knows how I felt and how scary it was for a child of 9 years old

Sandy Gunvalson Anderson – Chugiak Account

Chugiak is a community approximately 20 miles (12 km) northeast of Anchorage.

I was 12 years old, living in Chugiak, at the time of the Good Friday earthquake. We lived in a 3-room log cabin about a quarter of a mile off Birchwood Loop North. My older brother was on his 2-week encampment with the National Guard. My mother and father were both home, as was I at the time of the earthquake. It was a very frightening experience and the longest 4 minutes I’ve ever experienced. I remember my mother grabbing me and we stood in the doorway of the cabin. I think my dad was ready to catch the TV. His one-ton truck bounced all over the yard, but interestingly enough, our wood pile stayed pretty much intact. The entire pile appeared to be rocking together, as if it were placed in a giant rocking chair. Damage to our house wasn’t great, however, we did lose our well shortly afterwards and a support beam under the cabin cracked.

The medicine cabinet emptied itself, and furniture shifted. Mother’s plants on the window sill all fell and water sloshed out of the pan we kept on the wood stove, so we had a lot of mud on the floor. The earthquake was even completely over yet, when our neighbors across the street and their children came over to our house. They, like us, were frightened. We apparently had only electric radios which did us no good without electricity, so my father ran his truck and wired a speaker from the truck radio into the house. We went to bed that night with our clothes and boots on, so we could leave quickly in case we had to evacuate. As instructed on the radio, we also packed a bag with groceries for evacuation, mostly canned items, and discovered to our amusement much later, that we had not included a can opener. We eventually heard that the National Guardsmen were okay – that was great relief, although they were put on extended duty. My brother had to tromp through damaged homes in Turnagain By The Sea looking for bodies.

Nearly 40 years later (and in another state) I had an “earthquake flashback”. I was in a pharmacy which had antique pharmaceutical bottles on display. There was a demolition and construction project underway across the street. Some heavy equipment was rumbling and all those display bottles were vibrating and clinking. It felt and sounded like an earthquake. I had to leave.

Gregory Robinson – Valdez

I was 18 months old when the earthquake happened so I have no memories of that day. We lived in Valdez at that time. My dad was working down at the dock. Mom at the hospital. My sister and brother and I were at home with the babysitter. I was in a highchair next to the refrigerator, Lynne and Richard were playing hide-n-seek hiding behind the couch in the living room when everything began to rumble. I’m told I took a beating from the refrigerator and the wall. Lynne and Richard took the same kind of beating from the couch. The babysitter knew she had to get us all outside as the house was coming apart. She said it was shaking so violently that she had trouble getting to each of us and then getting us all to the front door of the house. The front door stairs and small patio were pulling away from the house as a fissure had formed between the two. The babysitter had to toss each of us across then she jumped, but in doing so fell and broke a few ribs because of the violent shaking.

Down at the docks my dad, Richard Robinson, was operating a forklift. He and several men from town were helping unload the ships that were docked there. That area was destroyed by the earthquake and tsunamis that hit the area. He was one of the 32 people killed in Valdez. His body was never found. We believe he went down with the underwater landslide. Watch “Alaska: Thought the Earth Be Moved. The Alaskan earthquake” to see actual earthquake footage as it append in Valdez.

Mom was working at the hospital, the floors dropped and water and sewage started flooding the floors. She says in the confusion her first thought were to keep the bed sheets from getting dirty. Once she got her wits about her she knew she had to find us kids. Once we were located she headed for the docks but was met by grandpa saying not to go down there as Richard was gone.

Word soon got around that we needed to get out of town and to higher ground, which we did.

Later we were evacuated to Fairbanks. From there we went to Salt Lake City, Utah to be with family. (15 years later Lynne was also killed on Good Friday)

Monica Maack Tiller – Kodiak Naval Base

I was nine years old and my dad was a Chief Petty Officer stationed at the Naval Base on Kodiak Island. It was Good Friday, and we had just finished eating dinner. I remember my dad sitting in his easy chair reading the newspaper while my mom finished putting away the dishes, when the first tremor started. I had just walked into the living room and stopped dead in my tracks. My dad looked up at me and I looked at him when the big tremor came. I just stood there watching him as he grabbed onto the floor lamp next to him and my mom was yelling from the kitchen, trying to hold the cabinets shut so that the dishes wouldn’t fall out. I don’t remember how long the quake lasted, probably a minute, but it seemed like forever. Once it stopped, dad jumped up and turned on the television to see what was being reported.

My next recollection was that we were soon packing belongings and moving to stay with the families who lived on higher ground because there was the threat of tidal waves. We stayed the night with a family we didn’t know (as did many other families that night), the children sleeping while the parents stayed up all night gleaning news and waiting to see if we would have subsequent quakes or tidal waves.

Luckily, our housing area did not suffer any damage from the quake or from the tidal wave, but parts of the Base did get hit with the tidal wave and downtown Kodiak was severely damaged by the tidal wave, washing boats ashore into the township.

As I was still a child, the experience was one of adventure for me. The day after the major quake (several smaller quakes would follow in the weeks to come), those whose homes we shared the night before had to come down to stay with us as their power went out and we had big gas furnaces which we used to cook small meals on, as well as grills and hibachi pots. As it was Easter, my mom had fortunately already boiled the Easter eggs, so the children decorated the eggs with crayons. Some of the people on the Base put together an Easter party for all the kids with baskets and stuffed animals for each of us. Yet even with these special treats, the gravity of the situation was all around us as we saw the huge cracks left in the roads and Base runway, and the high water lines on the buildings where the tidal wave came ashore. The memory of those days will always be with me.

Monica Maack Tiller
Wichita, Kansas

Glenna Silvan – Palmer and Wasilla

I am sending what I remember from the great quake. I lived between Palmer and Wasilla on a farm. There were 7 children but my two older sisters had grown and gone. I was 12 years old. My father had just gotten home from work. He worked for the ‘Road Commission’ which had the responsibility to keep all the roads in and around Palmer clear of snow and ice. Often he would work through the night. My mother was a registered nurse.

We were all getting ready to head to a church potluck, when it began. Just before the quake began I was on my way to the outdoor clothesline. The days had begun to get longer and dusk was just starting. It was all of a sudden when all the animals (we raised cows, had dogs, and cats galore) and birds were silent. The sky seemed to intensify and become darker in a single moment. I made my way back into the house with the frozen solid shirt when the quake first began.

As things started flying from our open shelves, my father told us all to get outside. We had 180 acres, with a 13 acre field in front of our house. We had an old trailer that was in our front area also. The cleared pasture was surrounded by very tall pine trees, upward of 80 feet and more. As we crowded out of the house trying to stand in a small circle, we kept falling. The trailer pitched to and fro like a child on a trampoline, and the trees surrounding the property were stooping to the ground as the earth heaved and rolled in waves.

We looked to our father, who was standing in the doorway of our home, unable to stand even with both shoulders and arms braced against the framing. The noise was incredible. The bouncing trailer, creeks and groans from our frame built home, and odd sounds from our car as it lurched and rocked back and forth, along with a deep under earth roar.

When the seemingly eternal quake ended, we surveyed the damage. The trees were back upright in the forest. Some of the larger field equipment had shifted several feet in the machinery park. We had a concrete floor in our milking barn, and a crack had formed right under the bulk tank that held the dairies milk each day. We dropped a stone and never heard it hit anything. There were cracks in the stucco covered home, and the root cellar that was built into a hill had disgorged the years food supply off its shelves onto the middle of the floor. There was a 3 foot high pile of home canned salmon, green beans, berries, stew and canned caribou and moose meat, and every kind of homemade jam imaginable.

Every year my mother would painstakingly raise a quarter acre garden and we would spend the spring and fall catching salmon, and canning almost everything. The exceptions would be put into the freezer where we had the seasons end of home grown strawberries, raspberries and green peas along with an array of frozen game that our father had shot that year.

The dishes in our cupboards were all on our floor, the food in piles on top of the dishes, except for the flour and sugar which occupied large barrels in 200 lb quantities.

Our property edged on a quiet lake, surrounded by rolling meadows. This time of year the ice was about 4 to 5 feet thick. We would ice skate and drive our truck on it and make donuts for fun. The ice in the center of the lake had ruptured and an abstract trophy-like pile of ice reached 12 feet or more, with mud from the lake bottom covering it like a hot fudge sundae.

The livestock were standing in a circle, away from the trees and near a pasture. It was as if they had sensed what was coming, or heard the groan deep beneath the earth that we could not hear. They had congregated and stayed there for several minutes after. They would be put in their stantions with fresh straw that evening, but the milk production dropped dramatically for a few days. The storage of our hay, in the barn had been violently pitched as if a mad man had been there, with no order in sight, everything jumbled together. The hay for the livestock was mixed in with broken bales of straw used for bedding the animals. It took a long time to right the mess.

We never made it to the church potluck. My father had to report to his work as soon as he could. The snow would still fall, and the quake had made many roads impassable. He was gone for what seemed like days, and when he returned he gave us reports of horrendous scenes of devastation to property, roads and houses. Still when we made it to church a week and a few days later, a list was hung in the foyer. On one side the heading was We Need and the other side

Heading was We Have. Under the ‘we need’ side there were no names. Under the we have side, there was list upon list of items members were willing to share. Everyone was just happy to be alive. But our small community banded together and things that needed to be rebuilt were rebuilt, and things that needed to be torn down, were torn down. Bales of hay were sorted and stacked in barns across the Matanuska Valley, and life continued.

The continued aftershocks would shake and rattle nerves every time they happened. And to this day when I am involved in an earthquake, small or large, I am not able to stand up, and end up in a fetal position crying. I even went to a mental therapist and told him when we were living in Seattle and had a 5 quake, what my reaction was. He said it was normal and while you can learn to overcome other fears, like flying or swimming, it would be pretty hard to conjure up an earthquake for a therapy session. My sister who is a few years younger and lives near me now tells me her reaction is the same.

We didn’t remain in Alaska long after the quake. We moved a little over a year later to Hawaii. My father sold his farm, cattle, equipment and buildings for $18,000, a pittance even then. I have not been back.

We are supposed to have a “Big One” here anytime. I hate thinking about it.

Glenna Silvan- Magna UT

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.