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

The Chenega people lived in Prince William Sound for more than 10,000 years. The village included a Bureau of Indian Affairs building, a Russian Orthodox church, a store and a small schoolhouse on top of the hill. The buildings were sturdy, constructed from logs and built to withstand the arctic winters, states a 1964 documentary produced by the San Francisco television station KPIX-TV.

Chenega, which means “beneath the mountain,” was self-sufficient, the documentary states. It had a working government and town council, and the people spoke English and the Suqcestun Sugpiaq dialect of the Alutiiq language.

Known as the Good Friday Earthquake, the quake hit at 5:36 p.m., said Natasha Ruppert, a seismologist with the Alaska Earthquake Information Center. Its epicenter was off shore, in Prince William Sound, and it ruptured a fault line measuring 800 kilometers long and 200 kilometers wide.

“There was no warning whatsoever,” Ruppert said. “The waves came almost right after the shaking started. People didn’t know what to expect. They didn’t know waves could come with an earthquake. They were not prepared.”

The quake was felt over an area of about 1.3 million square kilometers. In Anchorage, about 80 miles from the epicenter, streets broke in half and sinkholes formed, swallowing buildings and cars. Thirty blocks of Alaska’s largest city were severely damaged.

This image shows the Chenega village site at the head of Chenega Cove in western Prince William Sound after the earthquake on March 27, 1964. The lower limits of snow, as shown by arrows, indicate the approximate limits of wave run-up. The schoolhouse, which wasn’t damaged, is circled. (

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