Exclusively at TME Online: The Great Alaskan Earthquake

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C_AKCOEComplex.jpgOn March, 27 1964, the second largest earthquake in recorded history struck less than 100-mi from Anchorage. As the 50th anniversary of the Great Alaskan Earthquake nears, travel back  as two SAME members, Patrick M. Coullahan, P.E., PMP, F.SAME and Allan D. Lucht, P.E., M.SAME, recount the devastation of the 9.2 Magnitude quake. Exclusively at TME Online, see how Alaskan communities and the U.S. military responded with relief and recovery efforts—and why infrastructure and engineering advancements in the decades since  make the state and its people more prepared and resilient today. 

GOOD FRIDAY, 1964: THE GREAT ALASKAN EARTHQUAKE
By Patrick M. Coullahan, P.E., PMP, F.SAME and Allan D. Lucht, P.E., M.SAME
There have been instances throughout recent history that generations can point to and say “I remember exactly what I was doing at that moment.” Most Americans have the tragic events of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 imprinted on their memory. Members of the aptly named “Greatest Generation” always recalled the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 6, 1941. For others there was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Nov. 22, 1963, and the NASA Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster on Jan. 28, 1986. People in New Orleans keenly remember when Hurricane Katrina changed their world, as did those at the Jersey Shore during Superstorm Sandy. For some 125,000 Alaskans, it is another memory they vividly recall on March 27, 1964: the 9.2 Magnitude earthquake that struck Alaska on Good Friday. Perhaps not many in the Lower 48 really know about the profound immediate and ultimately lasting impacts this event had on America’s 49th state and the military and civilian engineering and construction communities, and the people of Alaska.

Even two decades after this disastrous earthquake struck the military and civilian communities in Alaska it was still apparent there were many people so profoundly impacted that it was among the first discussions an Alaskan newcomer or “Cheechacko” in local lingo, would usually have with a long-time resident, or “Sourdough”, as locals were categorized. The Sourdoughs would recount harrowing stories of the widely varied earthquake, which lasted several minutes and was followed by the earth throbbing with aftershocks every 50 minutes or so for an extended period. Hearing these accounts was valuable mentorship for any newcomer in adjusting to the experiences of life in Alaska.

As the 50th anniversary of the Great Alaskan Earthquake nears, while the general understanding of this historic disaster among the Alaskan populace, now numbering over 600,000, is certainly less universal, one can still find a Sourdough who lived through the earthquake willing to share their experiences during and after—and how their perspective on life changed that day and in the weeks after. This is their story.

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