Shake Rattle and Roll
by Eric Clark
I was a little over six years old at the time of the 1964 Alaska earthquake, so this is what I remember.
We lived near Jewel lake.
I don’t remember the streets in that area having names, there was a large wooden sign at the end of our street like the forest service would have at campgrounds with the name Jewel Lake Small Tracts.
No one had mail delivery, you had to go to the post office in Spenard to get your mail. It was not until a few years later that our area finally had named streets. Ours was Jade Street.
Just like anyone else who experienced the earthquake, especially at a young age, it was dinner time, and we were watching Fireball XL5 on TV one minute and the next it was the end of the world.
My parents came to Alaska in the 1940s. My dad came up with the Army Air Corps, and was a radio operator for the 10th Air Sea Rescue.
After his service, he started work for the Alaska Railroad as a helper in the radio department. He ended his career in 1977 as the Chief Communications Officer.
My mother had come up to Alaska with a friend via the Alaska Steamship Company. They had come up to Alaska to work in the Tuberculosis Sanitariums for the Jessie Lee home in Seward, which is where my parents met and were married in 1950.
We lived on a two and a half acre lot and had another two and one half acre lot across the street. My dad had received the land that was given to veterans in the early 1950s with the requirement they had to build a livable structure in a set amount of time.
My dad had never built a home before, and it was a learning experience for him. Many of the parts like the plumbing and electrical system were ordered from the Sears catalog.
The home was a small wood frame 2 bedroom 24 feet by 32 feet. It was sturdy as it was a bit overbuilt. It was on a wooden piling foundation, the walls, and floor were constructed of 1 by 6 tongue and groove set at a 45° angle, then plywood over that.
On the exterior it also had a layer of that old brown fiberboard, then tar paper, and finally lap siding.
My Parents had just purchased a new TV for Christmas, so it was only 3 months old.
For us to be able to watch “our show” (Fireball XL5) at dinner time was a great thing.
Sometime during our show, the earthquake hit.
We were used to having earthquakes, so at first, we just sat there. Then, after what could not have been more than a few seconds, it was apparent that this was not the usual quake.
I can’t remember what was said, if anything, but after the TV fell over, we all started to get up and get out of the house.
We had a small Arctic entry at the back of the house that we always used to enter the home or exit. we made our way out of the home with my parents in the lead followed by my brother, then me in the back.
As we were making our way out through the small kitchen and out the back door, the house would sway and roll with the ground waves. It was difficult to stand up, much less walk.
The house would roll in one direction, the kitchen cabinets and cupboards opened and dishes and pots and pans flew out. Then the house rolled to the other side and those cabinets and cupboards closed and the cabinets and cupboards on the other side opened and boxes and can goods flew out.
As we reached the Arctic entry I fell down. But no one noticed since it was quite a chaotic and a somewhat terrifying experience.
It seemed as if it was every man for himself at that point.
I crawled outside and was then able to stand up. My dad said to get into the car, which was a 1962 VW Beetle. We sat in that car bouncing up and down and sideways all at the same time.
While we were sitting in the car, my dad shut the power to the house off and turned off the propane at the tank valve.
As I remember, the sound was a loud low-pitched rumble somewhat like a train. The ground had waves and the trees pitched back and forth. There was a birch tree in our yard that branched out into a large Y and tree split down the middle.
In the days after the earthquake we slept in the living room on a hide-a-bed and couch to keep us all together and feeling somewhat safer as there were many aftershocks.
Our home did not sustain any damage. But the log-cribbed cesspool caved in.
That summer my dad added cement piers under the house to augment the wooden pilings just in case we had another big earthquake.
Immediately after the earthquake, my dad had volunteered to walk to Portage with a power supply for the microwave station, but his supervisors would not allow that as it would have been too dangerous.
My dad finally was able to get a ride on an Army Corps of Engineers helicopter to Portage. He spent a few days and nights at Portage on the roof of a microwave station with some other employees, with a generator and 3 pumps trying to keep the water out of the building.
My dad also worked on getting the phone lines to Seward up, as the railroad tracks and telephone poles on the Seward side of Kenai Lake had “disappeared” and all but radio communication towards Seward was unavailable.
The earthquake seemed to go on forever, but it did stop. But it did leave me with a lifetime fear of earthquakes.
It has been only in the last 8 to 10 years when we have an earthquake at night where I don’t wake up and bolt out of bed yelling EARTHQUAKE and start to run for the door.
Now I just wake up and wait for it to stop.
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