The History of Seward by Hotel Seward: The 1964 Earthquake

Jan 24, 2018

Historic Hotel Seward, Alaska’s premiere boutique hotel, is proud to be located in the quaint seaside town of Seward, Alaska, the gateway to Resurrection Bay and Kenai Fjords National Park. The history of our town is full of fascinating stories and we’re honored to share photos from our vast collection that is on display in the common spaces of our historic building.

The 1964 Earthquake

The 1964 Alaskan earthquake, also known as the Great Alaskan earthquake and Good Friday earthquake, occurred at 5:36 PM AST on Good Friday, March 27. Across south-central Alaska, ground fissures, collapsing structures, and tsunamis resulting from the earthquake caused about 139 deaths.

Lasting four minutes and thirty-eight seconds, the magnitude 9.2 megathrust earthquake was the most powerful recorded in North American history, and the second most powerful recorded in world history. 600 miles of fault ruptured at once, and moved up to 60 feet (about 500 years of stress buildup). Soil liquefaction, fissures, landslides, and other ground failures caused major structural damage in several communities and much damage to property. Anchorage sustained great destruction or damage to many inadequately earthquake engineered houses, buildings, and infrastructure (paved streets, sidewalks, water and sewer mains, electrical systems, and other man-made equipment), particularly in the several landslide zones along Knik Arm. Two hundred miles southwest, some areas near Kodiak were permanently raised by 30 feet (9.1 m). Southeast of Anchorage, areas around the head of Turnagain Arm near Girdwood and Portage dropped as much as 8 feet (2.4 m), requiring reconstruction and fill to raise the Seward Highway above the new high tide mark.

In Prince William Sound, Port Valdez suffered a massive underwater landslide, resulting in the deaths of 32 people between the collapse of the Valdez city harbor and docks, and inside the ship that was docked there at the time. Nearby, a 27-foot (8.2 m) tsunami destroyed the village of Chenega, killing 23 of the 68 people who lived there; survivors out-ran the wave, climbing to high ground. Post-quake tsunamis severely affected Whittier, Seward, Kodiak, and other Alaskan communities, as well as people and property in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California. Tsunamis also caused damage in Hawaii and Japan. Evidence of motion directly related to the earthquake was also reported from Florida and Texas.

Similar to the events at Valdez, the shaking of the earthquake caused the Seward Waterfront to collapse into the Bay, generating a 30-foot local tsunami. The tsunami destroyed most of the facilities near the waterfront, including a fuel tank farm, which started the first of many fires at Seward. Smaller tsunami waves then spread the burning oil floating on the water’s surface further inland to the Texaco Petroleum tank farm, starting another fire. Approximately 20 minutes after the initial local tsunami struck Seward, the first 40-foot wave of the tectonic tsunami wave washed in. This wave spread a wall of flaming oil into Seward destroying and setting fire to a large section of the town.

In all, the tsunami killed 12 people in Seward, and the combined effects of the disaster destroyed a large section of the city, causing million of dollars in damage.

 

 

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