This image shows the main part of the Chenega village site, Chenega Cove in western Prince William Sound after the earthquake on March 27, 1964. Pilings in the ground mark the former locations of homes that were swept away by the waves. The schoolhouse on high ground was undamaged.

Native History: Earthquake Devastates Native Village of Chenega

Alysa Landry

This Date in Native History: On March 27, 1964, the strongest earthquake in American history, measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale, shook southern Alaska, killing an initial 15 people.

The quake, which lasted as long as five minutes by some accounts, triggered a deadly tsunami that cost an additional 113 lives and devastated the Native village of Chenega, an island hamlet in Prince William Sound. Sixty-eight people lived in Chenega at the time of the quake; 26 of them were killed, or more than one-third of the population.

The shaking was registered as far away as Australia and Argentina, but Chenega suffered the highest percentage of lost lives than any other community.

The original village was the oldest continuously inhabited Native community in the area, states a 2006 collection of narratives about the quake and tsunami called The Day That Cries Forever. Although other cities hit hard by the disaster were rebuilt, the survivors of Chenega were relocated and never returned to live in their ancestral home.

“Some survivors do not openly or willingly discuss that tragic day,” the book states. “To them, it is an unspeakable matter, better kept inside.”

Chenega Village as it was in 1947. The white schoolhouse on top of the hill was the only building left standing after the 1964 earthquake. All the rest of the village was washed out to the sea. (John M. Poling)


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