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.
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.