Mommy’s House Broken

by Janie Evanson Henderson
(Anchorage, Alaska)

Destruction in Turnagain

Destruction in Turnagain

Our family was spared by the Grace of God!


We lived in a single family house on a typical street in our neighborhood of "Turnagain By The Sea."

My brother Ted (17 months old), our mom and I (almost 3 years old) had just come home from our cousin's 1st birthday party. Our dad was just home from work. Mom was changing Ted's diaper. Dad was reading the mail at the dining table. I was watching a TV show called "Romper Room." From our big front plate-glass window, I could see the Chugach Mountains beyond our neighbors' homes. The sky was blue and the mountains were covered in snow.

It was March 27, 1964. 5:36pm. There was still snow on the ground. We had about an hour before sunset.

All of a sudden there was a shake-enough to make the chandelier begin to swing! My daddy pointed to the light fixture and said "Look, Janie Lou, it's an earthquake!" I looked. The light was swinging. The shaking kept going. My dad picked me up and called to my mom "Come here, Clara!" She came with Teddy who was only 1/2 diapered.

Dad ushered us into the hallway (supposed to be safer there).

The shaking continued, increasing in intensity. The hallway walls began to squeeze together like in a fun house at a carnival. Dad said "It's not safe here" and took us to the kitchen.

The kitchen had big windows that looked out onto our back garden. I could see our swing set swinging like crazy-but not in the regular manner. The swings were slamming side-to-side, not to and fro!

And the tall birch trees - Oh my goodness! Their tops were touching the ground, first on one side next to their trunks and then the other! It was completely surreal-it just wasn't what trees and swing sets did.

While all that was going on outside, we were still in the kitchen and the house was being lifted up and tilted so much so that the refrigerator moved out of its spot and slid across the room, and then back into its spot again several times... The final time the fridge door opened and about half a dozen oranges tumbled out of the fridge onto the floor.

Thump thump thump...the sound of oranges falling upon the floor always takes me back into our kitchen in the house from before the earthquake, weird, isn't it?

Then the ceiling began to crumble and fall in. Our parents shielded Ted
& I from the debris with their bodies. Dad said that it was time to move and ushered us back into the living room.

The living room was a shambles: the big console TV/Stereo was tipped over, the furniture out of place, the floor joists were buckling, the wall-to-wall carpet was tearing like tissue paper, silty sand was boiling up through the broken floor, and looking out the big plate-glass windows, there was nothing to see but the inside of the earth. I thought we were being swallowed up.

Daddy said "Well, at least we are all together" and prayed thanking God for that. Just as he prayed, the roof joists broke open and we could see sky. Daddy said: "That's our way out!" But mom's foot was trapped in the floor joists... My dad told her "you're coming with me, foot or no foot" and put me & Ted onto the sand pile in the middle of the living room, yanked her hard, lifted her up and pushed her through the hole in the ceiling.

He then handed me to my mom, and then my little brother. Pretty soon all four of us were sitting on the roof of what was left of our home. Mom still had her foot. Ted had a diaper pin hole in his bum. I had a black eye. Dad was bruised. But we were alive.

Looking towards what had been our front yard, we couldn't see the Chugach Mountains, nor our neighbors' houses anymore... What we could see was the face of a 70' cliff with utility pipes and cables sticking out at the top of the cliff with the cement or asphalt of the road surfacing jutting out above.

Our neighbors from across the street appeared at the top of the cliff and somehow they got us up onto our street.

Afterwards, all of us were looking at what was left of our neighborhood--trying to account for all the neighbors.

Unfortunately not everybody was spared on our street.

Our neighbors, the Meads, lost their oldest & youngest sons - Perry (12 years old) & Merrell (2 years old). Beyond sad.

I wasn't too big, but as I was in my daddy's arms, and looking out over what is now Earthquake Park.

I got dad's attention and I told him "Daddy, mommy's house broken!" He looked at me and said, "Don't worry, I'll build mommy a new house." And he did.

Check out these 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake stories right now.

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My 1964 Valdez Earthquake Experience
by: Marilee

Thanks for sharing your story.

I'm always interested in hearing the experiences others had that day.

I was in Valdez, 15 years old. I guess the big difference for us was the tidal wave that barreled down on us at the same time. Well, it barreled into Valdez, but we were far enough away that it didn't touch us, but we could see it nonetheless, and the BOTTOM of the freighter that was at the dock, propeller whirling around.

We were sure we were goners when we saw the wave, but a huge crack opened and sucked that water in.

We lost so many people that day. It isn't something one ever forgets or gets over. Some noises still make my heart pause.

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A 1964 Alaska Earthquake Survivor
by: Susan Sanders

I so enjoyed reading your story.

I was 17 and rode out the 1964 earthquake near Glennallen, where I was a senior in high school.

Isn’t it amazing that we can all recall exactly where we were and what we were doing, down to the last detail, when the earth started shaking that day?

One of my vivid recollections is watching the trees sway so violently from side to side, and the frozen ground cracking beneath us when it got so bad that we went outside. I have never heard anyone else mention the trees.

A Note from Anchorage Memories

Susan - Your comment about the trees is very interesting. I was in Anchorage and outside when the earthquake hit. I was near a forest and I vividly remember how the trees were swaying violently, like the waves in the ocean.

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Gripping 1964 Alaska Earthquake Story
by: Mike

Wow -

What an amazing story of survival. Your family went through a lot as you rode out the quake on Good Friday. And it is sad that those two boys lost their lives.

Thank you for sharing your story for all our website visitors.

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