On March 27, 1964, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in North America shook Alaska. Originally measuring 8.4 on the Richter scale with a magnitude of 9.2, the quake and tsunamis in the aftermath killed 131 people.
Anne Engbers, Jacque Greenman and Marjorie Van Kooten remember it well.
“We were just sitting down to eat; it was Jacque’s turn to cook,” said Van Kooten.
Van Kooten ran to the yard upon first feeling the quake. “The road looked just like ocean waves,” she said. “I thought it was the end of the world. I heard the ground cracking, and I just prayed that I wouldn’t get swallowed up in it.”
The quake lasted for about 3½ minutes. “The cars rolled over the road and then rolled back,” said Engbers. “They just kept going back and forth.”
When the quaking stopped, the three returned inside. “The house didn’t look too bad, and nothing had fallen off the table,” continued Engbers.
“We thought we better eat,” said Van Kooten, “or the gravy will get cold.”
A bit later, a neighbor stopped by to tell the nurses they might be needed at the hospital. “It’s strange that we didn’t think about that,” said Engbers. “We weren’t injured, so it didn’t really occur to us.”
The trio headed into town and helped organize triage areas. “The wings had broken off of the hospital, but it didn’t crash down,” said Engbers.
“People were looking for blankets for babies,” said Van Kooten. “One lady came from Kodiak Island [which sustained many casualties due to the tsunami]. She was carrying her little girl. ‘She only has one shoe,’ she said, ‘but I still have my little girl.’”
In Anchorage, nine people died, and 75 homes and several businesses were destroyed.
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