My 1964 Earthquake Experience
by Michele A. Wiley
For you G.T., I promised this to you some time ago.
And to you C.H. because your post regarding the 1964 quake and PSTD really hit home for me and finally gave me the incentive (jolted me into action?) to put my earthquake story into words.
I rode out the earthquake on Turnagain Parkway and my Good Friday experience started out like this.
My good friend Gretchen Young, who lived 5 houses north of mine and closer to what later became “the bluff” and I decided to go ice skating. We were going to the ice rink the borough made at Lyn Ary Park at the intersection of Turnagain Parkway and Illiamna (the NW corner of the intersection).
My parents knew of our plans, and it worked out well as they were going to do all the Easter grocery shopping while I was gone.
Gretchen and I donned all of our outdoor clothes, grabbed our skates and off we went. After skating for what felt like 45 minutes, we mutually agreed that we were cold and headed back to her house.
We got inside her front door, stripped off all of our wet outer clothing and headed to her basement to watch Fireball XL-5 on TV while her Mom made us some hot chocolate.
We couldn’t have been in her front door more than 5 minutes before that awful, uneasy motion started and even at 7 years of age, I knew what it was.
I yelled “EARTHQUAKE” and we scrambled upstairs – on our hands and knees as we couldn’t stand. We heard the TV we were just watching hit the floor.
Mrs. Young met us at the top of the stairs. And that is where we stayed, huddled together as china fell/slid out of the dining room cabinets, dishes crashed to the floor in the kitchen, and we all screamed or cried in fear.
I remember looking out their living room window and seeing the neighboring trees sway so violently that they seemed to touch the ground with each change in motion.
Those 5 long minutes of the earthquake seemed like an eternity. And the sound – so loud – like 100 freight trains going through your house.
And I swear that I could hear the screeching of the earth as the ground waves ripped it apart.
Even before the shaking stopped, the Young’s front door flew open, and I saw my Mom and heard her yelling “MICHELE” in a panicked voice. She had run from my house up Turnagain Parkway, timing her jumps over the crevices in the street caused by the constant waves tearing at the earth we called home.
How my dear mother made it up the street I will never know. Only by the grace of God was she not swallowed up by the earth that March 27th.
Once the waves of motion slowed, my Mom and Mrs. Young took stock of the situation and checked all of us for blood, cuts and broken limbs. We were all fine physically, but our mental status was another matter.
During the entire episode, I cried because I feared that I was about to die. Mom then bundled me up, and we ran home, jumping over the gaping cracks in the street. Then we found our once pristine home in shambles.
According to my dad, my mom's Hammond organ moved from one end of the living room to the other for the duration of the quake, crashing into and moving everything in its wake.
Without power, I recall that it didn’t take long for the house to cool, and I got freaked out when I went to the bathroom and found the fish from my basement aquarium floating/half swimming in the toilet! My dear old Dad saved them from certain death on the basement floor and put them in the only place that had water.
My Dad was always a safety conscious man and the Bay of Pigs incident moved him to build a fallout (bomb) shelter connected to our basement. It was stocked with cots, blankets, food, and water. It suffered some damage, but Dad deemed it a safe place for us to stay that night.
But the Anchorage Police and Fire Departments had other plans for us.
My second fearful moment on that awful day was when the Police ordered us out of our home or be arrested and placed in jail. After my Mom uncovered my ears (muffling words that I had never heard from my father) we started to pack the car and prepared to spend that first night in a shelter on Fireweed Lane. Memory tells me it was at the intersection of Spenard, but I am not certain that is correct.
A later inspection of our home in “Turnagain by the Sea” showed that the foundation had moved off its base by 2 – 3 inches. A fissure went through part of our house and our refrigerator was face down on the kitchen floor between the wall it backed up to and the counter in front of it.
Later inspection and measurements (which I reconfirmed with my Dad just before he died a few years ago) showed that the fridge caused no damage to the wall behind it nor to the counter in front. The strange thing was that the fridge was almost 2 inches longer than the space between the wall and counter. So, during the quake it had to move vertically into the air and come back down at such a horizontal angle to clear both the wall and the counter. A feat not easily accomplished.
Now I know that many of you will disbelieve the next sentence, but both my parents and I swear this to be true.
After putting the groceries away, Mom and Dad mixed themselves a cocktail, both glasses sitting on a tray on the counter opposite the refrigerator. After the earthquake, with the fridge face down, those drinks didn’t have a drop spilled from either glass.
My lifelong distaste for mustard came from the earthquake cleanup.
Once we were let back into our home to gather things we needed and to do some initial cleanup, we tackled getting the refrigerator back to its normal upright position. Then came the cleaning of the mixture of mustard and sour milk. Yuck!
And the reality of how close I was to not being alive sank in when we went to look at the skating rink that Gretchen and I were using just before the quake.
Slabs of ice were standing vertically on edge, some pieces upside-down, but most of it was destroyed and laying like a shattered crystal bowl. There was no resemblance – not even a hint – of the ice rink that had laid there a week or so before.
BONUSGreat Alaskan Earthquake Survivor
A powerful story about a young teenage girl caught in the JC Penney building during the 1964 earthquake.
An amazing story of survival.
Take a look at Great Alaskan Earthquake Survivor