The Big Alaska Earthquake - Part 2
by Linda A. Wingfield
(Corona, South Dakota, USA)
During the 1964 Good Friday Alaskan earthquake, the author, Linda A. Wingfield was living in Valdez, Alaska.
This is Part 2 of her story -
At some point we learned that anyone who had been on the docks during the quake was probably gone. It was later confirmed that Smokey and all of his family were among those who disappeared during the tsunami.
We drove to the picnic area, but stayed only a short time. Daddy was worried about vagrants and looting. Even though we knew most of our small town's population, there were usually a few drifters. He was worried that one of them might try to loot what was left of our place if we were gone all night.
He drove back and parked on the highway near the driveway. At that point, I broke down and cried hysterically. Mom finally gave me half of a sleeping pill from her purse. The next thing I knew, it was morning, and we kids were all wondering what was for breakfast.
I still carry a reminder of that night. One patch of hair at my right temple had gone completely white by morning. It never changed back. Before I was 30 years old, all of my hair was totally white. When beauticians asked about it, I'd tell them this story.
Throughout the next day we heard more horror stories as people (mostly men) headed back into town to see what could be done immediately for housing and food. We later learned that 31 members of our community would never return.
By evening it was decided that at least the women and children should head for Tonsina Lodge where the proprietors had kindly agreed to let anyone stay at least one night. Then we were sent to the Glenallen High School to register as Valdez survivors, after which we were parceled out to other places of refuge.
Our family and several others were graciously hosted by a Christian boarding school near Copper Center. We stayed about five days. Mom then decided to take us to Fairbanks where plane rides had been arranged for people wanting to leave the state. We were bused there.
After a few days at a Fairbanks hotel, the three
younger kids were sent to South Dakota, where they stayed alternately with our two sets of grandparents until we picked them up during the summer.
She then went back to Valdez to help with recovery efforts, and I stayed in Fairbanks with a friend whom I'd met during my first two trips to the Alaska Spelling Bee. I had already won my third Bee in Valdez, and was supposed to attend the State Bee in Anchorage. Diane's family let me stay with them to attend school with her at Main Jr. High to finish 8th grade. The huge school was terrifying to me at first, but I grew to love it.
The Fairbanks Kiwanis Club gave me a scholarship to represent Valdez at the Spelling Bee. Diane (representing Fairbanks) and I traveled together and stayed with the family (prior Valdezians) with whom I had previously stayed. Their house had been devastated by the quake, also, but we were welcomed to their new home.
When school let out, Mom and Dad picked me up and we drove the AlCan to Aberdeen, South Dakota (where they were both born and raised) to pick up the other kids. During the week spent there we saw tornadoes and HUGE hail that left dents in our car. On our way home, we narrowly avoided another tornado just south of Edmonton. Plus, while camping one night, huge caterpillars overran our tent and crawled into our sleeping bags (yuck).
I don't remember much else about that summer, except one thing. We had been living and fixing things up at two-mile. One day a friend came running down our somewhat-less-elevated hill toward the house. He had been working with the Coast and Geodetic Survey, deciding what to do about repairs.
He sternly ordered us, “Pack up and get out of here!" The men had put instruments down through small crevices in the road, and for miles around, there was nothing but space. Their instruments never reached anything solid!
By that time there were rental trailers available in town, for State workers. Mom was eligible, and we ended up in a small court, where we lived until Daddy built a small house on our replacement land grant in the new town site. Life goes on.
Check out Part 1 of The Big Alaska Earthquake Part 1