National Geographic : 1964 Jul
Aladdin Beauty Palace at 6th Avenue and C, hairdresser Myrtle Barnes had just applied a powerful permanent-wave solution to a cus tomer's hair when the earthquake struck. "I had to get that solution off," Myrtle told me, "or the lady would have lost her hair. But the earthquake had cut off the water." I asked how she had solved the problem, and Myrtle blushed. "I scooped the water out of the tank above the toilet," she said. "It's perfectly clean, and the customer didn't feel like arguing." Weather Eased Quake's Aftermath Anchorage, for the most part, will always be grateful for two things about the earth quake: that it occurred late in the day, when few people were downtown, and that temper atures for at least a week following the disas ter were normal for March-in the 20's and 30's. Had Alaska had a cold snap-and in the 49th State, March cold snaps can run well be low zero-not only would rescue and shelter problems have become nightmares, but urgent repair jobs, such as the splicing of ruptured water mains and gas conduits, would have been dangerously-in some cases, perhaps fatally-delayed. Alaskans, I learned during those first days in Anchorage, are incurably stouthearted and possessed of a saving sense of proportion. Time and again as I walked through the ruins, I passed homeowners and shopkeepers burrowing among the indescribably forlorn remains of their lives. And almost always as I passed, there was the brief glance upward and the smile. Finally, pausing beside what once had been a home and what now more than anything resembled a giant pile of jack straws, I asked the owner outright how he managed a smile. His answer was simple yet perhaps repre sentative of all Anchorage as it faces the chal lenge of rebuilding: "It's easy. I'm alive." Anchorage, for all its suffering, had one great advantage over most of Alaska's other stricken communities-the city stands rough ly one hundred feet above sea level. That fact probably accounts for the city's incredibly low death toll. After three weeks, with almost all wreckage searched, authorities placed the figure at nine known fatalities out of a popu lation of 55,000. In terms of cold percentage, the number is almost grounds for rejoicing. There are, after all, towns like Valdez. The port of Valdez lies at the head of a fiordlike sliver of water some 30 miles from 122 the open expanse of Prince William Sound. Majestic snow-girt mountains-Valdez calls itself the "Switzerland of Alaska"-shoulder the small community almost into its own deep-water harbor. I flew to Valdez-Alas kans pronounce it "Valdees"-one crystal day in a light Army plane piloted by a National Guard lieutenant, John W. Spalding. The dark, spruce-tufted islands, home of deer and Alaska brown bear, slipped by in blue water laced with spray and now and then flecked with floe ice. At the mouth of Valdez Arm the first ominous signs-a green plank several shades too bright to have been long afloat, a shattered orange crate, a red handled house broom-broke the pattern of whitecap and ice. As the fiord narrowed, what KODACHROME(BELOW) BY WINFIELD PARKSAND c 'uA M CRVM/avT 1i\Iv6nnF II S ARMY (n NG.S. "Did it truly happen?" The Honorable Ernest Gruening, junior United States Sen ator from the 49th State, shares the shock of fellow Alaskans as he surveys damage. Crashing into the street, the front wall of the five-story J. C. Penney store in An chorage killed two people and crushed sev eral cars. Opened only a year and a week prior to its destruction, Penney's today plans to rebuild.