Mommy’s House Broken
by Janie Evanson Henderson
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 half-way diapered.
Dad ushered us into the hallway (it was supposed to be safer there).
The 1964 Alaska earthquake shaking continued to increase 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 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 and tilted so much that the refrigerator moved out of its spot and slid across the room. Then it slid back into its spot again several times… The final time, the fridge door opened and about half a dozen oranges tumbled out and onto the floor.
Thump thump thump…the sound of oranges falling upon the floor always takes me back to 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 and me 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 had tipped over, and our furniture was all over the place. The floor joists began buckling. Then the wall-to-wall carpet tore like tissue paper. Silty sand was boiling up through the broken floor, and as we looked out the big plate-glass windows, there was nothing to see but the inside of the earth. I thought we were being swallowed up.
When the shaking had finally stopped, 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 the 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”. He then put me and Ted onto the sand pile in the middle of the living room, yanking mom hard. He lifted her up, and pushed her through the hole in the ceiling.
Dad then handed me and my little brother to my mom.
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 pinhole in his bum. I had a black eye and 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-foot 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.
Afterward, 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) and 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 my 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.
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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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