Wednesday, March 19, 2014


March 27, 2014, is the fiftieth anniversary of the Great Alaska Earthquake, also known as the Good Friday Earthquake, that registered 9.2 on the Richter Scale, a force equal to 12,000 Hiroshima-size atomic bombs, the most powerful earthquake to ever hit North America. It was bigger than any of the recent devastating earthquakes in Japan or Indonesia. At the time, my family lived in one of the hardest hit towns--Seward, 120 miles south of Anchorage. In memory of that event, I will share in this post and the next one excerpts from my book, Frontiers of Faith, about their experiences.

Good Friday, March 27, 1964, dawned sunny with a promise of spring. About 5:30 p.m., my mother and brother dropped by my grandparents' to borrow a lace collar she wanted to wear for the combined church choirs' performance of DuBois' The Seven Last Words that evening. Entering the glass-enclosed front porch, Mother complimented Grandma on the beautiful plants blooming there. After visiting for a few minutes, Grandma went to get the collar.

At that moment, the house began to shake. Thinking Grandpa was wrestling with his grandson, Grandma stumbled out of the bedroom, calling, "What are you doing?"

The tall, heavy antique dresser she had been looking in crashed to the floor, slamming the bedroom door shut behind her. If she had still been in front of it, she would have been crushed. Straight ahead in the kitchen, she could only watch as the china closet doors swung open. The fragile antique dishes she had inherited from her mother, many of them over 200 years old, flew out and shattered on the kitchen floor. Helpless to do a thing, she clung to the door frame, which was shaking so violently she was sure it too would collapse and bring the roof down on top of them all.

Mother clutched the door frame to the front porch, helplessly watching her mother's beautiful plants topple to the floor one on top of the other.

The shaking went on and on. After five minutes that seemed like an eternity, the violent quaking began to subside. Grandpa and Mother hurried to the kitchen to find Grandma, shocked and bewildered, standing ankle deep in broken dishes and groceries. Turning to my mother, Grandpa said, "I wonder what your house looks like!"

She and my brother staggered out the door onto the still heaving ground to their car. They were just getting in when Mother glanced up and saw a wall of flames about 100 feet high sweeping down the waterfront toward the Texaco oil storage tanks, which were less than two blocks from my grandparents' home.

Mother ran back in, yelling, "Get out of town fast! Those tanks are going to blow!"

My grandparents grabbed a few things and ran to their car. Picking up several panicky children whose parents were not home, they drove out of town, carefully navigating around deep cracks that crisscrossed the road as well as burning debris.

They learned later that when the earthquake hit, the bottom of Resurrection Bay on which Seward is situated opened up and then closed with such force that it catapulted raging waves into the town. The entire waterfront had disappeared into the bay. The huge Standard Oil storage tanks ruptured and belched burning oil and black smoke hundreds of feet into the air. The burning oil raced down the railroad tracks leaving a blazing inferno behind.

Within minutes the first tsunami rushed up the bay, regurgitating what it had swallowed. The force was so great that it hurled huge railroad cars and engines like sticks, snapped trees like toothpicks, and carried boats and homes several miles before smashing them against the cliffs.

Meanwhile, Mother and my brother drove across town to our church with its parsonage attached to pick up my dad and sister. The floors of the house were littered with debris, but no one was there. Daddy had run down the street to help a neighbor. Seeing the car, he dashed back. Praying that the Lord would protect their house, they picked up my sister and headed out of town away from the fires.

The only way out of town was a two-lane road across the lagoon, bordered by the railroad tracks on one side and cliffs on the other. They had driven about two-thirds of the way across the debris-strewn road when the line of cars slowed. Glancing out the right side window, Mother noticed fishing boats, flaming timbers, burning oil, and other debris being pushed up and over the railroad tracks, as though by a giant hand.

"Hurry!" she screamed. "A tsunami is coming!"

Just then, the line of traffic stopped.

To be continued.

No comments:

Post a Comment