Seward ruined by quake, tsunamis
Seward’s darkest day was March 27, 1964. At 5:26 p.m. that day the ground shook and rolled violently for 4 minutes with the second worst earthquake on record. A magnitude 9.2 disaster.
Many families were just sitting down to dinner that Good Friday, the day the crucifixion of Jesus is observed, when the shaking began. The Standard Oil tank farm at the south end of town exploded and shot plumes of fire into the sky, train tracks were twisted, railroad engines and cars were tossed around like toys, boats bounced on land and water, cupboards were emptied, furniture moved across rooms and plate glass windows shattered into the streets.
Within minutes the tsunamis as high as 20 feet started. Six or more walls of water rolled up Resurrection Bay, and receded leaving the shallow parts of the bay without water, destroying homes and buildings, lifting some off their foundations and swirling them in the eddies with their inhabitants clinging to the roofs.
Civil Defense policemen, city patrolmen and the fire department responded immediately after the temblor to the fire at Standard Oil. But fire fighting was crippled by broken water mains and no electricity. One tank after another exploded into inferno.
People loaded up their vehicles with family, friends and pets, and headed out of town on Seward Highway to higher ground. The drivers picked up people who were running or walking from the catastrophe until their vehicles were filled.
Throughout the night explosions and alarms sounded in the darkness, and aftershocks kept coming while wet snow fell. Rock slides crashed down the mountain sides.
Saturday morning brought clear skies, bright sun, placid waters and the shock of a town in ruins. 14 people were dead. A 3,500-foot stretch of waterfront, as much as 300 feet wide, had slid into the bay. Homes and buildings were turned into pick-up-sticks. Boats, barges, railcars and building were tangled into piles of garbage. Water mains were destroyed, so the city was without water. Electric and phone systems were out of service.
Families separated in the exodus were reunited that morning.
The quake centered near Valdez and tsunamis that followed, also brought extensive damage to Valdez, Cordova, Kodiak and Anchorage. The old village of Chenga was gone.
Sewardites got right to work rebuilding their town. Homes and businesses were restored or rebuilt. Railroad tracks were repaired. The harbor was rebuilt.
Southcentral Alaska is still an active earthquake area with many small quakes each year and always the potential for major earthquakes and the tsunamis that accompany them.
To learn how to prepare earthquakes and tsunamis visit www2.borough.kenai.ak.us/emergency/prepared/earthquake.htm or www.ready.gov/earthquakes.