Alaska tsunami survivors tell their story - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Alaska tsunami survivors tell their story

By Malika Dudley - bio | email

KODIAK, AK (HawaiiNewsNow) - Many towns in Alaska were devastated by the 1964 Good Friday earthquake and resulting tsunami. Kodiak residents lost 19 friends and family that day when their town was wiped out.

Alice Ryser survived the deadly tsunami, "You're so scared I was trying to take everything in but I was just too scared."

"You know, we never seen anything like that before," said Captain Dave Olsen.

Kodiak residents were taken by surprise that day. It was dinner time in their sleepy town, a little after 5:30 when a 9.2 earthquake shook the earth beneath them. Duncan Fields was just eight years old, and playing at a tank farm when it struck. He recalls what happened that day: "As we ran through the tanks these oil tanks were literally banging together, above us as we ran." The shaking lasted nearly five minutes. Kenny, a high school senior, was stocking shelves at work and ran outside...

"It was noisy, extremely noisy, a crunching grinding noise and at the same time, when the poles would whip in opposite directions, the line would go twing and if you looked up the street you could see waves coming down the street just like the ocean and then all of a sudden it stopped there was just no sound. The cops came by with their mega phones hollering, go to high ground go to high ground... get out of town."

Ellen Horn was just 15 then, her mother logged everything as it happened, 5:32 pm moderate to severe quake, 5:40 sustained tremor ceased, 6:35 crest of first seismic wave reached.

"My mom was cooking dinner so she packed up the dinner and dad rounded up the kids and we all went in the van up to the base of pillar mountain. There was this huge traffic jam."

It was a full moon as families gathered on that cold night. The Beukers, were among the first at the top of pillar mountain.

Lavonda Beukers recalls that night, "No one was prepared, we weren't prepared with blankets or food." Most people stayed there, but Ellen and her family returned to their home after the first wave. "There was ice cakes in the basement all around. We were starting to clean up and then we hear this big roar and my dad looks out and there's another wave coming." They quickly evacuated to safety as the second wave surged inland.

Duncan saw one of the waves approaching, "The entire horizon just past near island was just this tumultuous body of water, you could just see it churning, and it looked like the entire ocean was coming at you in this wave." A 12-year-old Lori Hausman was traumatized by what she saw. "I just remember, I'm going to get real emotional, looking down and seeing all our stores floating down the channel."

Downtown Kodiak was devastated. The Kodiak Mirror estimated $24 million in losses. Meanwhile, traffic jams on the mountain continued some didn't get home for several days.

Joanne was one of them, she explains, "It took us two days, because there was so many people up the mountain that we couldn't get down until everybody else left." The next day, the National Guard set up post. Only those with special passes were allowed to go downtown.

Lori remembers that time vividly, "They had announcements we could hear that if there was anyone caught looting they would be shot there would be no warning." Finally, Urban Renewal came into town to rebuild, while families struggled with reconstructing their lives. Alice sums it up, "It was a very dramatic time, you should only go through one in a lifetime."

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