The earth shook for over four minutes. Roads split in half. Bridges toppled. Waves up to 213 feet tall crashed.
Not only can this apocalyptic scenario happen--it has happened. And will again.
As the largest earthquake ever recorded in the United States, the Great Alaskan Earthquake and resulting tsunamis and landslides caused significant damage in 1964.
With effects across the United States, the quake disrupted life as people knew it. And today, from California to Alaska, the likelihood of another big one is mounting. (And for the Midwest US with the New Madrid Fault, too.)
As you read on, I’ll give you a peek back at what happened during the quake in 1964, how residents coped, and when the next one might occur. And fortunately, I won’t leave you without the necessary knowledge and tips for how to prepare effectively for a possible similar situation.
The Great Alaskan Earthquake: What Happened
As families were sitting down to dinner on the evening of March 27, 1964 (Good Friday, in fact), a 9.2 magnitude earthquake struck the Prince William Sound region of Alaska, some 75 miles east of Anchorage. As the History Channel reports, “Eyewitnesses described hearing a crunching, grinding noise as the earth shook. They recalled seeing asphalt roads rise and fall like waves and the ground opening and closing before them, water shooting up through the ensuing cracks.”
It occurred when the Pacific Plate lurched underneath the North American Plate, releasing 500 years of mounting stress and pressure. After the 9.5 magnitude earthquake in Chile in 1960, this was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded, and registered in all US states except Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Delaware. The quake lasted for over four minutes, a significant amount of time to cause major damage.
At the time, the majority of buildings in the areas affected were not built to withstand the effects of earthquakes, and there was major structural damage caused to homes and businesses. The damage from the earthquake amounted to $300 million in 1964 dollars, according to Live Science.
In total, about 131 people were killed--the majority (116) from resulting landslides and tsunamis. Because the quake struck a coastal area, numerous local tsunamis were triggered. A 27 foot tall tsunami completely destroyed the town of Chenega, killing a third of the population. In addition to these local tsunamis, a giant tectonic tidal wave was triggered and resulted in tsunamis across other parts of Alaska, as well as British Columbia, Oregon, Washington, and Northern California.
Are You at Risk?
Earthquakes can happen anywhere, but there are certain areas that are more prone than others. For example, according to Live Science, four out of five earthquakes today occur in Alaska. The state is located along the Ring of Fire, which extends from Chile along the coast of the Americas to Alaska, and then down through Japan and the Philippines to New Zealand.
Although Alaska experiences the most earthquakes of any US state, according to the United States Geological Survey, California experiences the most damaging earthquakes. This is because the state is more highly populated versus Alaska, where many quakes occur in areas with little to no inhabitants. Because Washington and Oregon are also located along the Ring of Fire, residents in those states should also take caution. After these states, Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and Utah have the highest risk of earthquakes. Of course, Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky have the New Madrid fault to deal with, too, as we outlined in a recent Survival Scout.
When it comes to tsunami risks, the states in the greatest danger are the Pacific states--Oregon, Washington State, Alaska, Hawaii, and California. Whether you live in one of the major earthquake- or tsunami-prone states or plan to visit them in the future, it’s important to understand the protocol for preparation and safety.
Preparing for Earthquakes and Tsunamis
We can’t control whether or not earthquakes or tsunamis will happen. There is clear evidence suggesting they will continue to happen and affect communities in at-risk areas. What we can control is how prepared and informed we will be to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe during and after these disasters. Read on to discover six essential earthquake and tsunami preparedness tips…
1) Sign up for alerts: Fortunately, data and learnings from past earthquakes and tsunamis have provided scientists with the ability to predict future occurrences. For example, according to the History Channel, the Great Alaskan Earthquake led to the establishment of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, which alerts people when a widespread tsunami is possible. Sign up for alerts now--a quick Google search will provide you with various text, email, and phone notification options.
2) Have an emergency kit at the ready: Once disaster strikes, you won’t be able to run to the store to pick up essential survival items. Purchase the necessary items now and store it somewhere accessible in your home or garage. This Preparedness Crate for Emergencies is a great place to start. Containing 62 items such as food, water filtration, a radio/light, and fire-starting devices housed in a water-resistant crate, it’s a must-have for a wide variety of emergencies, including earthquakes.
3) Know first aid basics: From puncture wounds to sprained ankles, anything can happen during a disaster. It’s critical to know how to clean, disinfect, and ease the pain until professional medical treatment can be accessed. Equipped with The Ultimate Survival Medicine Guide and Lifeline Deluxe First Aid Kit, you can rest easy knowing you have the information and tools to assist yourself and loved ones.
4) Know when to evacuate: The 1964 Alaska Earthquake taught coastal citizens to run for higher ground at the first sign of strong tremors. Lingering on the coast put them at risk of drowning in a resulting tsunami. If you live on a coastline in danger of tsunamis post-earthquakes, don’t hesitate to evacuate to higher ground. Take the time now to research which areas in your community are designated safety zones.
5) Prepare for loss of electricity and damaged gas or water lines: Oftentimes, earthquakes can cause structural damage to water and gas lines. According to the History Channel, in the case of the Great Alaskan Earthquake, the shaking “led to water, sewer and gas line breaks and widespread telephone and electrical failures.” After an earthquake hits, if it’s safe to remain at home, turn off your gas line in case of leaks. Wait until an expert from your gas company has given you the green light to turn it back on. Additionally, loss of electricity will likely result in loss of running water. Have a backup supply of water and water filtration supplies.
6) Stock up on food: As the History Channel shares, the Great Alaskan Earthquake “effortlessly toppled telephone poles, buckled railroad tracks, split roads in half, uprooted buildings, cars and docks and tore homes apart.” Part of the of the Million Dollar Bridge at Copper River also crumpled. With damaged roads and bridges, the grocery store and other local food sources you typically depend on may not be accessible for days or even weeks. When the Great Alaskan Earthquake hit, many rural communities were cut off from essential food supplies. Military airlifts delivered 2,570,000 pounds of food and other supplies. However, it’s not enough to depend on the government or military to provide you with food and supplies post-disaster. Having your own supply of Emergency Survival Food will prove to be critical.
Residents in Alaska had no idea what was about to happen on that infamous day in 1964. If you truly want to be prepared for the worst-case scenarios that can and will happen, use the tips and information I’ve provided today. It could mean the difference between life and death.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply