Page 5 The Great Alaska Earthquake of March 27, 1964
It was 5:36 pm on Good Friday when the earthquake hit. It's epicenter was at 61.03 N and 147.50 longitude near the east shore of Unakwik Inlet. The center was nearest to the towns of Valdez, 40 miles, and Cordova. 70 mies. In my estimate, the epicenter was about 110 miles from Middleton Island. The magnitude was measured to be 8.4 to 8.6 although I believe that this was later raised to 9.1.
For our purposes, we are mainly concerned with the effects the earthquake had on Middleton Island. As it turns out, the most serious effect the earthquake had was the tectonic uplift. The movement raised the island 10 to 12 feet higher in elevation..
Living on Middleton Island at that time was the Ahlstedt family, a family of 5 formerly from Seattle, Mr. Ahlstedt was the FAA Representative living at the north end....The earthquake was a harrowing experience for them as was described by Mrs. Kate Ahlstedt in an article printed in the Ruston Daily Reader, Ruston, LA. I sincerely want to thank Mrs Ahlstedt and family for furnishing us witth this article of her very scary experience without which we would have no information on what hapened on Middleton Island and my sincere thanks to the Ruston Daily Reader.
After the initial shock she writes from her diary ;
At 7:00 am we were rolled out of bed by a 'rolling shiver type' one. All morning we got them about once an hour. We had our Easter egg hunt though, and I put in a big pot roast for dinner. About 1:00 pm we heard we could send a telegram out, "possibly". Hope it got through. Then about 5:00 pm Anchorage radio reported that 2 stations had reported a showing at 3:34 that was not an aftershock, so we were up at a very tense level once more.
"The Norsworthys recieved a long distance call about 4:00 am here from relatives in Texas. They had heard that the offshore island were sinking. I do hope you were spared the agony of that false rumor at least but it was on all our minds."
Mrs Kate Ahlstedt daughters on Middleton Island..Ahlstedt photo
We women grabbed up a few essentialst and we all climbed into 3 vehicles and raced to the southern end of the island, which is 110 feet above sea level. We went to the communication,"Tropo" site,
- a steel and concrete building, a vast amount of electronic gear but with ample space to spend the night if necessary. "..........."We also heard that Valdez and Seward had been shaken and then hit by tidal waves and were on fire.
........."We sat joking about the few humorous events of these past hours when we got hit by a long rolling tremor. It lasted long enough for us to get outside too. The party disintegrated and we all went home. . A second one hit and Cordova FAA , in response to our call, said they felt nothing. This worried us a lot more than before.
The kids decided to bed down on the couch, and I put all our clothes in the living room and went to bed. Less than five minutes later we got a really sharp jolt with a loud cracking noise. Phil came up out bed saying "
Lets get out of here, NOW!! The girls woke 'screaming' in terror and Joe was white and taut. By the time we got them all into coats and Phil got the jeep, the rest of the staff was ready to leave also.
The FAA Housing on the north end of the island...photo by Bill Price
"This night was far rougher than the first night we spent at the 'Tropo'. We passed into the phase of , 'if we survive this night, lets consider evacuating. The human mind and body can only take so much stress, and we were all about at the breaking point, after 55 hours of constant stress. Our reasons were basically these; the children are reduced to a state of nervousness beyond belief; and we are feeling the fact of our isolation; other places have room to run about. Our little island gives no such comfort and we're 80 miles at sea. We are in touch with Anchorage once more and they are aware of our predicament."...." To hear the men speak of sending wives and children to safety is a feeling beyond expression. I wondered if we made it through, could I go for the children's safety, and leave Phil here. They felt there jobs too important to desert."
In the light of day things are so much less horrifying. We returned to our houses , as the tremors had decreased. Got one jolt at 7:00 am, then no more for hours. Dwight notified Anchorage of our past discussions, and then passed on these important facts they had relayed to him. (We had repressed feelings that we were pretty well forgotten in the larger scope of disaster control and emergency situations being taken care of). .......(missing)..........................Apparently, our little island literally rolled with the quakes and the gear was unaffected! Everu other FAA station in the area is damaged.
Much was made of the fact the the dependents could be airlifted out in a matter of 2-3 hours if desired. But, in spite of all last night's depression, we have all regained our control, and a personal account of decisions, revealed that all of us are now willing to stick it out until a REAL emergency happens, and we have set our minds om the fact that other placeds are feeling individual shocks. We were NOT sinking , as we subconsciously feared.
My Dearest family,
"We are all fine and have had no personal losses. Our greatest problems have been the knowledge of our insolation, and the uncertainty if every moment in the last 4 days..........I have kept a detail diary of these crucial days and I will try to tell you, very briefly how we have been affected.
The initial quake hit Middleton Island about 5:35 pm last Friday. I was just putting a special meal on the table-Phil's 28th birthday celebration dinner; it was never eaten. The house began to quiver, then shake, and then shudder violently. Windows and glassware began to tinkle. We grabbed the children and ran out to the back yard. We were joined by the rest of the staff. editors note; there were a total of 12 people living on the island at the time of the earthquake. We stood chatting and watching the towers and antenna swaying.
The movement was now more of a rumbling. The ground seemed to push beneath our feet as though the island was being pushed (by) a giant outboard motor. It throbbed in varying degrees of intensity.
During a brief lull, I dashed back into the back entryway to get the girls coats and boots. I watched as an ornamental glass ball fell from the window onto the table, shattering into the waiting food.
We estimate the quake continued for six to eight minutes. When it stopped, we all went back into our house to see what damage had been caused. Surprisingly, only that one ball was broken. We cleaned up the kitchen table and I began to prepare more food. Suddenly, we were rocked by a second quake, harder and stronger than the first, but lasted only a minute or so/ We did dash outside again, however, but returned. As this is taken from a copy of the newspaper article some small parts of the article had to left out because they were not legible...Armand .............." Our line into Cordova was dead. Cordova FAA reported cracks in their ground and one corner of the control station had settled several inches. .
Our next concern was a tidal wave posibility. Cordova could not be certain but their tide seems to be receeding at a fast rate. We could see no change in our own water as yet. A quick conference, and we decided we had better move to higher ground, just in case. Darkness was approaching, and we realized that our houses are only 30 feet higher than the mean high tide level.
.........At 7:40 pm we experienced our third jolt, strong enough to shake our "haven" and sent us dashing out to the trucks, only to return when it subsided. Where else could we go? I then got out a sheet of paper and began taking notes on the events as they happened, and as they continued. Through the next hour we heard varying reports from our Cordova link, mainly that the entire coastal region of Alaska was involved, and that Anchorage had been badly hit. We vould get no tidal information from anyone, so at 8:45 we decided to return to our homes.. It began to snow lightly as we drove back and the lights of the base looked good.
We found no further damage and began to prepare for bed. Then we got a very sharp jolt, then four to six more within a few short minutes all short and sharp. Cordova FAA reported that their tide had dropped thirty feet, so we decided to return to higher ground once more. After the first jolt upon our return I had begun preparing to leave. I took a huge Navy duffle bag and put clothes, food, supplies, medicines, our important papers, and identification, toys for the girls diversion, and pillows and bedding. We got a strong tremor just before we got into the trucks, and the men loaded mattresses and blankets in anticipation of a long night's vigil.
During our brief stay at the home, our radio informed us it was "one of the strongest in modern times (the earthquake) so we were even more aware of the fact we were in a crucial period. We got back to the Tropo about 10:00 PM
The Tropo site...(White Alice)....Ahlstedt photo.
I cannot continue to report every detail or this letter would exceed the 20 pages that I have written in my diary about all this. So I will try to be briefer. There followed an entire night of tension. We all sat by the inter-phone and watched the Teletype as scant bits of news began to filter out from sticken areas. We heard that Anchorage's downtown buildings had collapsed and areas had slid into the sea. We also heard that Valdez and Seward had been shaken and then hit by tidal waves and were on fire.
Between 3 and 4 am, Phil and I tried to rest a little. I quote from my notes just after I got up again " I am so nervous I cannot keep from shaking. Phil tried to comfort me, and we spoke of the utter uselessness of panic-we are doing all possible to protect the children and ourselves.
As in any so called 'natural disaster', we are at the forces far beyond our understanding and control.
"At 4:45 the sky began to lighten and the tremors are no worse so we decided to return home." We spent Saturday in a state of reduced tension. We had tremors every 10 or 15 minutes, and jolts every 30 or 40 minutes all day. I repacked our gear bay and placed everything near the door for a quick exit if necessary. Coats and boots were left there also.
The men made preliminary surveys of the sites, and we were amazed to learn that nothing major had been affected, only minor items. These were repaired and MDO, (the Middleton air beacon radio) was in operation once more.
I spent the day near the adio trying to sift through all the many rumors to get the basic facts, and any news that might affect us here. All of Alaska's FAA systems is now classified as 'unreliable, however.
It was a lovely day, which seemed unbelievable, somehow. The sea seems too calm, no wave action at all. In the afternoon, Mae and I helped the girls prepare Easter eggs , trying to go ahead as normal as possible. Everyone went to bed early, and I listened to one more news report, got everything ready for departure, then went to bed, too. Didn't sleep very well of course,. At 4:45 am, Cordova buzzed us with newa that an island nearer them (Hitchinbrook) had 10 jolts in 1 hour, and was considering evacuating. And the tide isn't normal there this morning. So at daybreak we anxiously checked ours and found it looking very low but otherwise normal.
The old CAA Buildings today.............photo by Tim Van Nus
We went through most of Monday without a major tremor. But we did compromise and spend yet another night at the Tropo. We went there at a set time, NOT in a panic, as the two times before, and all of us felt entirely different. Most of us slept through a mjor portion of the "H" or tremors and are trying desperately to regain our composure and settle into the routine of everyday life. We will stay home tonight.
And so I sit here tonight and try to convey the deepest feelings I have ever had. Our lives will never be the same. Sensibly, We know how thankful we should be. . So many thousands of people have lost so much. But each of us is concerned with our own 'personal' world, and ours has been deeply touched by emotions, that are as hard as persnal losses. We are aware of capabilities and shortcomings and of a depth of concern and love for our children that I did not realize existed. I come face to face with the fact that materiel things are of such small concern. For four days, I have seen all that I would have willingly left this island with all packed in one duffle bag. It's quite a realization.
We are still recieving small tremors and are told to expect them for an infinite time. I cannot say that they do not frieghten me, but I do feel that we must go on with our living, and not show our fear. Cheri is the one I worry about. Even today, she wore her coat and boots for fifteen minutes, even after a mild quiver, before I could get her to remove them. I do hope time will erase these days of terror.....(missing) ........ It will be months before our nerves return to normal. Each of us jumps when touched and a sudden loud noise is a frightening thing. As with all emotions, these will fade and I know that we cannot go through life in fear of earthquakes. I have not meant to frighten you by this detailed account. Looking back, I see that it gets pretty emotional in places. I can write no other way.
It was very emotional and I felt you would want to know these things. I try to write as though the worst is over, and we are trying to make ourselves realize this fact. A few odds and ends now. Richard did get through to his wife this morning after the quake. They were all okay. He is already due to return to Anchorage on Wednesday's plane. We hate to see him leave. He is a wonderful person, and has enriched our lives these past two months.
Word says we will get a plane in tomorrow. An Air Force one came over low today, on a reconaissance tour , we think. We hear occasional high flights as they head toward Anchorag all day long too. Cordova FAA Station lost water and sewage systems. They have cracks in their ground, and the bridges into town have risen and fallen as much as 4 feet. The nearby glaciers moved as much as one-fourth to one-half a mile and they say the Copper river, the big one , no longer has water in it. Don't know where it disappeared to. (But they had no deaths). We even heard Sunday morning over a Anchorage station that "Middleton Island" has been evacuated and has no injuries. Sure a frustrating sensation to stand on a heaving floor and hear this gem of misinformation. I will no doubt be writing many more details and incidents as we hear them here. I have no idea when telephone communications will be straightened out enough so we can call you. Please try not to worry about us. The worst is over.
And so I close, as never before, love from your glad-to-be alive daughter. ........ Katie Ahlstedt
If you see any omissions, corrections or have additional information, please email me or leave a message in the Guest Book. Thanks, Armand
"Ordeal At Middleton" by Katie Ahlstedt...Article,;, Ruston Daily Reader