National Geographic : 1964 Jul
windowless department store, instinct warned her that this was no ordinary quake. Instead of subsiding after a moment or two, it grew steadily stronger. The building began mak ing ominous sounds. Mrs. Tucker started across the heaving floor toward the escalators. Before she could reach them, the lights went out.... * One hundred and twenty miles to the east, Bernard Whalen and his friend Jim Aubert were helping unload the 10,000-ton Liberty ship S.S. Chena at the pier in Valdez, a town of 1,100 people on Prince William Sound. Aboard ship, Whalen glanced at his watch. It was 5:36 p.m., less than half an hour until quitting time for the workers on board and for two dozen other longshoremen on the pier. Whalen felt a shudder run through the ship. His first thought was that the "jumbo gear" the heavy cargo-lifting rig forward-had giv By WILLIAM P. E. GRAVES National en way on the deck. Jim Aubert, standing be side No. 3 hatch, thought that for some rea son Chena was getting under way. Both men glanced toward the pier.... * Far down the Gulf of Alaska, on bleak Ko diak Island, U. S. Navy Lt. Raymond Bern osky set out in the late afternoon from Kodiak Naval Station to tend beaver traps with a friend. The two men left their car, an Inter national Harvester Scout, several hundred yards from the beach and started on foot for a low hill inland. After a time, Lieutenant Bernosky looked back at the car. What he saw sent him and his friend streaking for high ground. The Scout was afloat on a nightmare flood tide that was sweeping silently and swiftly up the hill. Both trappers made it to the hilltop-the friend only after colliding with a floating chunk of ice three and a half feet thick.... * Meanwhile, to the east in Juneau, Alaska's capital, State Senator Yule Kilcher of Homer sat trimming his fingernails in the Baranof Hotel. He had just finished the fourth nail when a prolonged tremor shook the building. 114 FWAR;\ With a sense of foreboding-yet unaware that he had just experienced the most violent shock to strike North America in this century -Senator Kilcher got to his feet and went in search of a radio. It was to be more than a week before he could spare the time to trim the other six fingernails. Shocks Slam Across 500-mile Arc It began years before that fatal Good Fri day of March 27, 1964. Deep in the earth, perhaps 12 miles beneath the region north of Prince William Sound, fearful and little-un derstood forces were at work on the earth's crust, twisting and straining the great layers of rock as a truck strains its laminated springs going over a bump. Eventually, at a point called the focus, the rock gave way, snap ping and shifting in an instant with the force of 12,000 Hiroshima-size atomic explosions. The devastation spread with terrible speed in an arc 500 miles long (maps, pages Geographic Staff 120-21). Crackling through the earth at thousands of miles an hour, the shock wave sliced, churned, and ruptured the land like some enormous disk harrow drawn over the sur face. Highways billowed with the upward thrust of the shock, great concrete slabs over lapping one another like shingles set awry. Rail yards heaved and buckled, twisting tracks into bright curls of steel. Serene, snow-capped mountains shuddered, loosing cascades of ice and rock that sheared slopes razor clean of brush and trees. Towns and cities suffered bizarre torments. Among neat buildings and ordered streets, the earthquake seemed to give way to caprice, demolishing one building and sparing its neighbor, leaping hundreds of yards-often half a mile-to deliver massive, jackhammer blows. Where power lines and fuel tanks lay, circuits occasionally ruptured; the crackle of their sparks was like the sputtering of fuses connected to gigantic powder magazines. The shock wave struck and raced on, but in passing it stirred other, sequel forces. Some where off the crescent of Alaska's southern coast, the sea bottom had heaved and plunged violently, setting millions of tons of water in Secure in his mother's arms, a young survivor rests in a tem- .. ' . porary shelter. Eyes still reflect the fear inspired by seismic sea waves, tsunamis, that swept through the port. Honored recently by selection as one of 11 All America Cities, Seward suffered a knockout blow from the seismic sea wave that destroyed docks, warehouses, and rail yards (pages 128-9). When asked what the All America City would do now, the mayor responded, "Work on our second award." EKTACHROMEBY WINFIELD PARKS© N.G.S.