The 1964 Earthquake
Inside the 4th Avenue Theater
by Linda Allen
It was Good Friday, 1964.
Our Dad dropped us off at the 4th Avenue Theater to see a Walt Disney movie. He was going to pick us up later when the movie was over.
I was with one of my brothers and two of my sisters. The movie had barely started, when the walls of the theater started shaking and grinding together! I will never forget that sound of twisting cement and metal.
We had just moved to Anchorage from Unalakleet.
None of us had ever experienced an earthquake before. I thought maybe a bomb had gone off. Then we stumbled outside and there was broken glass all over the sidewalks.
I looked down 4th Avenue and could barely see the marque of the Denali Theater which had sunk into the hillside. We walked around the block and saw that the whole side of the Penny's store had caved into the sidewalk. I saw a car parked with a turn signal still blinking. We later learned that someone in the car was killed.
At the time we lived in a small two-bedroom house right off of Campbell Airstrip Road, which was way out of town back then. Too far for us to walk in the snow and cold.
None of the payphones were working, so I couldn't call home and let Dad and Mom know we were OK.
Dad and Mom got a hold of someone who told them all the kids from the theater were taken to a shelter. They managed to get to the shelter and could not find us. When they were gathering the kids at the theater they must have missed us. Can you imagine the horror of thinking what might have happened to four of your kids?
It was snowing and cold.
We wandered around for a while. I was the oldest, so I was supposed to know what to do. I remembered Mom had a friend whose brother Glenn lived downtown in a small house behind the Hill Bldg. It was just a couple of blocks away. So we went there.
We were lucky that Glenn was home and let us in. Glenn was paralyzed from the waist down and was confined to a wheelchair.
The emergency radio was advising everyone downtown to be ready to evacuate at any time because they were afraid the gas mains would blow up with all the aftershocks we were having.
Glenn had a small two-seat sports car that he had adjusted, so he could drive it. But we couldn't figure out how we could fit one adult and four kids in the little car to evacuate. Luckily, the orders to evacuate never happened.
The next morning the phones were working, and I was able to call Dad and Mom and let them know we were OK and where we were. Dad and Mom were finally able to get downtown later that day to pick us up.
We were never so glad to see our parents!
Our family was originally from Nome, where I was born. After the quake there were two other Nome families whose homes had been destroyed. So for about two weeks after the quake, our small two-bedroom house, was home to six adults and about twelve kids.
But we all considered ourselves very lucky.
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A powerful story about a young teenage girl caught in the JC Penney building during the 1964 earthquake.
An amazing story of survival.
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