AP Photo/U.S. Geological Survey
In this March 1964, photo released by the U.S. Geological Survey, the Four Seasons Apartments, a six-story lift-slab reinforced concrete building is shown cracked to the ground following an earthquake in Anchorage, Alaska. The building was under construction, but structurally completed at the time of the quake. North America’s largest earthquake rattled Alaska 50 years ago, killing 15 people and creating a tsunami that killed 124 more from Alaska to California. The magnitude 9.2 quake hit at 5:30 p.m. on Good Friday, turning soil beneath parts of Anchorage into jelly and collapsing buildings that were not engineered to withstand the force of colliding continental plates.

Remembering and Recovering From Good Friday Disasters in Alaska

Alysa Landry

A hush may fall over the Native villages of Alaska’s Prince William Sound today as people remember twin tragedies that devastated the area on Good Friday.

The holiday may induce a sense of dread for those who survived the earthquake of 1964 and the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989—50 and 25 years ago respectively.

“It makes you hold your breath every year,” said LaRue Barnes, Alutiiq, of the Native Village of Eyak. “When nothing’s shaking, nothing’s happening, you can go on and celebrate.”

In 1964, Good Friday landed on March 27. At 5:36 p.m., the strongest earthquake in American history, measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale, shook southern Alaska. Its epicenter was in Prince William Sound, and the quake and subsequent tsunami devastated the Native village of Chenega.

RELATED: Native History: Earthquake Devastates Native Village of Chenaga

Twenty-five years later, just after midnight on March 24, 1989—also Good Friday—the oil tanker Exxon Valdez slammed into Bligh Reef, dumping more than 11 million gallons of crude oil into the sound and damaging more than 1,300 miles of coastline.

Barnes, 59, experienced both disasters and still remembers them in surreal detail.

“It was incredibly coincidental that both of them happened on Good Friday,” she said. “It kind of makes you stop and think, to hope that nothing else will happen on that day.”

Together, the disasters—one natural and the other manmade—forever changed Native life on Prince William Sound. Although today is a time for commemoration, it’s also a day to mourn what will never be recovered.


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