The 1964 Alaska earthquake, also known as the Great Alaska earthquake, began at 5:36 P.M. AST on Friday, March 27, 1964. Across south-central Alaska, ground fissures, collapsing buildings, and tidal waves directly caused about 131 deaths. This Alaskan earthquake is also known as the Good Friday quake because it occurred during a Christian holy day associated with the crucifixion of Jesus and an earthquake that reportedly happened then.
Lasting nearly five minutes, it was the most powerful recorded earthquake in U.S. and North American history, and the third most powerful ever measured by seismograph; it had a moment magnitude of 9.2 and registered 8.4 on the Richter scale.
The powerful earthquake produced Earthquake liquefaction in the region. Ground fissures and failures caused major structural damage in several communities, much damage to property and several landslides. Anchorage sustained great destruction or damage to many houses, buildings, and infrastructure (paved streets, sidewalks, water and sewer mains, electrical systems, and other man-made equipment). Two hundred miles southwest, some areas near Kodiak were permanently raised by . East of Anchorage, areas around the head of Turnagain Arm near Portage dropped , requiring reconstruction and fill to raise the Seward Highway above the new high tidemark. In Prince William Sound, a tsunami destroyed the village of Chenega, killing 23 of the 68 people who then lived there; survivors out-ran the wave, climbing to high ground. Post-quake tsunamis severely affected Valdez, Whittier, Seward, Kodiak, and other Alaskan Communities, as well as people and property in British Columbia, Oregon, and California. Tsunamis caused damage in Hawaii and Japan.
At 5:36 p.m. Alaska Standard Time (3:36 a.m. March 27, 1964 UTC), just as people were traveling home on a late-winter evening, a fault between the Pacific and North American plates ruptured near College Fjord in Prince William Sound. The epicenter of the earthquake was , 12.4 mi (20 km) north of Prince William Sound, 78 miles (125 km) east of Anchorage and 40 miles (64 km) west of Valdez. The rupture occurred at a depth of approximately 15.5 mi (25km). Ocean floor shifts created large tsunamis (up to 70 feet (20 m) in height), which resulted in many of the deaths and much of the property damage. Large rockslides were also created which resulted in great property damage. Vertical displacement of up to 38 feet (11.5 m) occurred, affecting an area of 100,000 miles² (250,000 km²) within Alaska.
Type of fault
The Alaska Earthquake was a Subduction Zone
Death toll, damage and casualties
Various sources indicate about 130 people died as a result of the earthquake: nine during the earthquake itself, 106 from subsequent tsunamis in Alaska
and 16 from tsunamis in Oregon
. Property damage was estimated at over $300 million ($1.8 billion in 2007 U.S. dollars).
Most property damage occurred in Anchorage
, 75 mi (120 km) northwest of the epicenter
. Nine people were killed, the only deaths directly attributed to the earthquake. Anchorage was not hit by tsunamis, but downtown
Anchorage was heavily damaged, and parts of the city built on sandy bluffs overlying "Bootlegger Cove clay
" near Cook Inlet, most notably the Turnagain neighborhood, suffered landslide
damage. Land overlooking the Ship Creek valley near the Alaska Railroad yards also slid, destroying many acres of buildings and city blocks in downtown Anchorage. Most other areas of the city were only moderately damaged.
The hamlets of Girdwood and Portage, located 30 and 40 mi (60 km) southeast of Anchorage on Turnagain Arm, were destroyed by subsidence and subsequent tidal action. About of the Seward Highway sank below the high-water mark of Turnagain Arm; the highway and its bridges were raised and rebuilt in 1964-65.
Elsewhere in Alaska
Most coastal towns in the Prince William Sound
, Kenai Peninsula
, and Kodiak Island
areas, especially the major ports of Seward
were heavily damaged by a combination of seismic activity, subsidence, post-quake tsunamis and/or earthquake-caused fires
was not totally destroyed, but after three years, the town relocated to higher ground 7 km (4 mi) west of its original site. Some Alaska Native
villages, including Chenega
were destroyed or damaged. The earthquake caused the Cold-War era ballistic missile detection radar of Clear Air Force Station
to go offline for six minutes, the only unscheduled interruption in its operational history. Near Cordova, the Million Dollar Bridge
crossing the Copper River also collapsed.
A 4.5 ft (1.4 m) wave reached Prince Rupert, British Columbia
, just south of the Alaska Panhandle
, about three hours after the quake. The tsunami then reached Tofino
, on the exposed west coast of Vancouver Island
, and traveled up a fjord
to hit Port Alberni
twice, damaging 375 homes and washing away 55 others. The towns of Hot Springs Cove
, and Amai
also saw damage. The damage in British Columbia was estimated at $10 million Canadian ($65 million in 2006 Canadian dollars, or $56 million in 2006 U.S. dollars).
Twelve people were killed by the tsunami in Crescent City, California
, while four children were killed on the Oregon Coast at Beverly Beach State Park
. Other towns along the U.S. Pacific Northwest
were damaged. Minor damage to boats reached as far south as Los Angeles
Since the entire Earth vibrated as a result of the quake, minor effects were felt worldwide: several fishing boats were sunk in Louisiana and water sloshed in wells in South Africa.
Over 10,000 aftershocks were recorded following the main shock. In the first day alone, eleven major aftershocks were recorded with a magnitude greater than 6.0. Nine more occurred over the next three weeks. It was not until eighteen months later that the aftershocks were no longer noticed.