It was March 27, 1964, a Good Friday, when at 5:36 pm (Alaska time) an earthquake of magnitude 9.2 called the great Alaskan earthquake, and a subsequent tsunami, claimed the lives of more than a hundred people. It was one of the most powerful ever recorded in the whole world.
The epicenter of the quake was 6 miles from the Prince William fjord, 50 miles west of Valdez, and just 75 miles east of the city of Anchorage. The hypocenter of the earthquake, location within the ground, was 14 miles deep. The ground motion lasted 4 and a half minutes.
The event took place in the ocean floor followed by a large tsunami that reached waves up to 131 ft height. In addition, it occurred a vertical displacement of 37 ft that extended in one giant line of about 155 miles.
The Great Alaskan Earthquake, as it is known today, killed 15 people, while the subsequent tsunami caused 124 more deaths, generating a total of 139 deaths; although different sources differ in the number of victims, ranging from 131 to 143.
The truth is, the number of deaths was remarkably low considering the magnitude of the event. The attributable cause was the relatively small population that inhabited Alaska at that time.
Tay Thomas, one of the survivors of that day told the Daily News newspaper at some point that “I could not believe what I was seeing. I could not believe what I was experiencing. “
This event played a very important role in changing the way in which earthquakes were seen until then, as it resulted two years later in the creation of the National Earthquake Information Center and, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), also stimulated the growth of the Alaska Tsunami Warning Center within a year.
The Great Alaskan Earthquake shows us how helpful Earthquake Early Warnings Systems will be facing a future event in the continental USA. Now, we have time to react promptly before the ground motion hits.