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An Earth Shattering Experience

john had just spent a year in Biloxi, Mississippi in the Air Force as a second lieutenant studying Communications/Electronics. After this training he was assigned to Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage.

He arrived December 19, 1963 in the middle of the night, which was no surprise as the nights are 19 1/2 hours long at that time of year. As he stepped off the Alaskan Airlines plane, he remembers how quiet everything was except for the thick snow crunching under foot. Due to ice fog, any source of light looked like a pole of light rising from ground to sky. john thought it was like being in a corn field, except the stocks were poles of light, ready for harvest.

He settled into his new assignment easily and, like everyone else, found the unexpected weekly tremors* to be something to talk about the next day at work. The lamp shades would rattle and the pictures would move slightly on the walls, but that was all.

March 27, 1964 seemed like any other work day. It was a Friday, so everyone would be going to the Officer's Club after work (what else is there to do with those 19 1/2 hours of darkness everyday?). john met the commander of his squadron at the bar. john went back in 2006 and was able to take a picture of the bar, as it is today:

At 5:37 p.m. they were just starting their second scotch and soda when they started hearing a strange sound in the distance! This was a unusual sound, somewhat like a train in the distance, but there were no tracks nearby. It grew louder and john noticed the startled look on the commander's face. john then remembers saying, "earthquake!" as the noise grew intense.

The commander fell under the sturdy bar and the second lieutenant found himself under a cocktail table with barely a one inch flimsy support. The lights went out as the sound turned into motion of the floor.

john found that he was spread-eagle in the dark. The floor began to rise and fall. john could hear glass shattering everywhere around him as the waves grew in amplitude.

john was a helpless observer, never once thinking that he might die, and listening to the roar and the other helpless people around him in the dark. The men in the room were swearing at the top of their lungs to get those #%! candles on the tables blown out! They were actually angry that they were not in-control. The women were making a primevil sound which john never had heard before or has heard since. The sound was neither a moan,a cry or a shriek; it was simply a sound before-time. No one was able to move a muscle. In fact, it took john ALL of his energy just to get his hand over his eyes.

The waves grew larger! Just as john thought they couldn't get any larger, they grew larger. At first they were just going up and down a foot or so. Then it was two feet. Then the waves grew to four feet high and about the same across. john was like a bottle floating in the ocean, just going up and down wherever the waves took him. The unlimited energy was beyond description! This was taking place in a concrete building! Impossible!

After the Good Friday earthquake reached a magnitude of 9.2 for 5 -7 minutes it began to reverse itself and the waves slowly grew smaller. As soon as possible, everyone crawled out the front door still on all fours; still unable to stand upright.

What they saw was that the earthquake had shoved all the cars to just one inch apart. Finally, a group of people from john's squadron found one car that could be pushed backwards. john and the others jumped in and went back to the squadron to see who had been hurt and what had to be done in this emergency.

Four hours later, without heat nor light and in the -25 degree F. temperature, john looked around and asked, "where is my parka?" It was still at the Officer's Club. He hadn't noticed.

The earthquake brought out the very best in people (man's humanity toward man) and also brought out the worst (items were stolen because of the opportunity of the moment). The good far exceeded the bad! Tremors continued for the next two weeks to the point that john and others were too tired to run outside anymore. If the roof collapsed, so be it!

* "tremor" was the word commonly used in 1964. Now the term most often heard is "tremblor".

This is all that is left of the town of Portage. Note the dead trees killed by the earthquake.

 

For more about the 1964 "Good Friday" earthquake,Click here
 
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