The Good Friday Earthquake, March 27, 1964

Comments by Jim Schneider

Although I grew up in Anchorage and graduated from West Anchorage High School in 1962 I was not in Alaska when the earthquake hit. Instead I was half a world away in a U.S. Army band in Orleans, France.
I didn't learn of the quake until Sunday afternoon. The Service Club hosted pinochle tournament every Sunday afternoon. When I walked in one of the other players said, "I heard Anchorage was destroyed in an earthquake." I was, to say the least, shaken by that. I contacted the Red Cross in an attempt to find out what had happened and was told that there had, indeed been a massive earthquake in south-central Alaska and that they would find out what they could for me. (To this day I've heard nothing from them.) It was not until my sister, who was in Mississippi with her husband and children, called on Monday or Tuesday that I learned that my family had sustained no injuries. They lived in central Spenard where houses were built on stable soil. The only damage had been a cinderblock chimney that had fallen over in the backyard.

Here are a few pictures of the aftermath taken by my mother, Beth Schneider.

Comments by Marlys Schneider, nee Ross.

    I was just short of twelve years old when the earthquake occured. Like many others of that age I, along with my sister, Deb, was watching "Fireball XL5" at the time. Deb and I were waiting for our Mom, Gwen Ross, to come home from work as she had promised to take us to see "The Sword in the Stone" at the Denali Theater.

     Dad (Hubert Vincent Ross) was working swing shift when the earthquake struck. An aircraft mechanic for Pacific Northern Airlines, he was working inside the fuselage of a cargo plane when the plane started jerking. Dad thought that a ramp monkey had hitched a tug to the aircraft and was towing it. Dad headed to the door intending to yell at the ramp monkey. Dad reached the door just in time to see a crack open up in the snow covered tarmac. The crack slammed shut and a puff of dust sprayed out. The breeze caught the dust and blew it all to one side of the crack. Dad said that was when he realized that there was a major earthquake happening. From the cargo door Dad could also see part of the tank farm for the aviation fuel – three huge above ground tanks. He figured the snow on top of the tanks was bouncing four or five feet into the air. That sight frightened him – if one or more of those tanks ruptured the resulting fire would have been unstoppable. Dad also heard a tremendous crash while he rode out the quake in the plane.

     Eventually the quake ended. Dad hopped out of the plane and looked around. It didn’t take long to identify what had crashed: the airport’s control tower was down. Mercifully, the fuel storage tanks where all intact.

     Dad came home to check on us and the house. Debbie and I were there but Mom wasn’t home from work yet. Dad took us kids over to the McWhorters’ – both parents and all three girls were home. Dad left us with the McWhorters, put a note on our door so Mom would know where to find us, and also that he was going back to the airport to see if he could help with any rescue work. I think he must have grabbed his camera, too, or maybe it was already in his pickup truck. Either way, he took two pictures that evening. One is of the wind drifted dust from the fissure he saw open and close, and the other is of the wreckage of the tower.

     Dad was gone for quite a while that night, but I don’t remember him ever talking about what he did. Over the next two or three days there were some news reports about the tower. A shift change had just occurred, so there were four men in the tower – two in the control room and two going down the stairs. The men in the control room survived. The two on the stairs died. If Dad helped with the tower he may have seen things he didn’t want to talk about.

You can find the pictures he took that night and over the next few days here.

He also shot some 8 mm movie film. We had the film transferred to digital format several years ago. You will find those videos on YouTube.