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 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