Washington, D.C. â€“ On the 50th Anniversary of the 1964 Earthquake, Alaskan Congressman Don Young shared a firsthand account of the Good Friday earthquake, in addition to the devastating destruction in communities across the state, improvements to earthquake and tsunami monitoring systems, and the resilience of the Alaskan people.
“Fifty years ago, Alaska experienced the largest and strongest earthquake ever to strike American soil – 9.2 magnitude… I was in Fairbanks, AK on top of the Polaris Building with my wife and my taxman at the time. I remember I was unable to stand; my wife was in a chair and she was rolling; the tax collector, Dick Jones, was rolling around. We all immediately got these big eyes; we didn’t know what was going on. Finally, when it all settled down, we all looked at one another and Dick said,‘if we’re not at the epicenter, the state’s going to be in big trouble.’
“That same weekend, we were having the Alaskan Republican Convention in Fairbanks. Lowell Thomas Jr. was running for the United States Congress against Ralph J. Rivers. Lowell Thomas Jr. lost his house that day, it slid into Cook Inlet. We got the news that Anchorage was in fact devastated, along with Valdez and Kodiak.
“Kodiak was a unique thing because the island actually tipped; it sunk eight feet on one side –that’s solid rock – and rose eight feet on the other side. A lot of the areas that were inhabited had sunk. On the other side, there was no ability to take and put in their boats and docks were no longer usable. It was something that I don’t think any Alaskan would like to go through again.
“We have to be prepared in the future. Senator Stevens and I were able to put in place the tsunami warning system we have now to help save lives. Many of the lives we lost that day were the result of the tsunami not the earthquake itself. It’s hard to believe it was 50 years ago, but it occurred and will probably happen again. I hope we are prepared for it.
“I was really proud of the way Alaskans banded together and recovered very quickly. I’m especially proud of Wally Hickel. I don’t think it was more than a month afterwards that he started building the Captain Cook Hotel in downtown Anchorage. Anchorage was devastated; really demoralized. Everybody said, ‘if Wally can build a hotel, we can rebuild the town;’ and Anchorage was rebuilt. It was really a period of time of good Alaskan spirit and American spirit.”
Congressman Don Young shares his thoughts on the 50th anniversary of the Great Alaska Earthquake. Video-Office of Don Young