• As disaster drills take place across the state, Alaskans remember the 1964 earthquake
By Hannah Heimbuch
Editor’s Note: Last week the Homer Tribune reported on some of the disaster preparedness exercises taking place in the Homer area as part of Alaska Shield 2014. This week, we spoke with residents who remember the earthquake that rocked the state 50 years ago.
Studies show that some animals can sense an earthquake before it truly hits. NASA scientists think it could be linked to fluctuations in Earth’s magnetic field that occur just before the shaking starts. Perhaps the Turkington’s horses sensed that subtlety beneath their feet 50 years ago, just before the biggest earthquake to ever hit North America started to vibrate through Homer.
Bruce Turkington was sitting down to dinner with his family and a visiting friend at their home East of Homer, about to celebrate his 13th birthday. Moments before, the horses suddenly began to whinny and race around. Then it hit. Dinner and household items began to rock from shelves and counters.
“We immediately started exiting the house,” Turkington said. “One of us turned off the gas on the cookstove, because everything was shooting up and the flames were going.”
The family went outside to wait out the quake, a strong, rolling tremor that seemed to change as the long minutes ticked by.
“It just kept building, until it got really strong and it was really shaking hard,” he said.
The 9.2 magnitude Good Friday earthquake hit on the evening of March 27, 1964. Its epicenter was 78 miles east of Anchorage, and about 15.5 miles below the Earth’s surface.
His family was fortunate, Turkington said, in that no one was hurt and there wasn’t any major damage done to their home. Perhaps some of the worst damage in town was to Olive and Art Kolar’s grocery store, Kachemak Food Cache. The Turkingtons and several other families helped with the clean up to get the store up and running again.
Homer residents slowly got in touch with loved ones, righted their households, and inspected the aftermath of several large bluff slides, one just behind the Turkington home a few miles out East End Road.
The other part was waiting to see how the tide would change the Homer Spit. They knew the land had shifted, Turkington said, but no one knew how much.
“The next thing you know, (we’re) watching the high tide go in and watching the Spit go under water,” he said. “We were up watching when the first high came up … something was wrong, you could tell.”
Ten-year-old Chris Moss, now 60, was up at the Ohlson Mountain rope tow when the earthquake hit.
“There were probably almost 30 people there,” Moss said. “I think when the earthquake hit, I was in the lodge at that point. I remember running out and looking up the hill, and seeing those trees flipping back and forth.”
Looking out toward the smooth, white slopes around the lodge, he said, he could see the ground ripple beneath the thick blanket of snowpack.
“We were watching those big rollers come across it, like you were on a big ground swell on the ocean,” Moss said.
Turkington, who now manages Spenard Builder’s Supply in Homer, said he’s not sure Homer would come out of another major quake quite as intact. With increased infrastructure after 50 years, and more people, it’s possible that damage could be more extensive.
That’s one of many reasons for community members to participate in disaster preparedness, said local disaster action team leader Trisha Davis, whether that’s a disaster plan at your business, supplies for your family at home, or volunteering.
The local Red Cross is taking part in Alaska Shield 2014, happening this week across the state to improve awareness of and preparation for disaster response.
“We’re going to be having a shelter exercise at the senior center directed toward seniors,” Davis said, “with staff that knows how to work with seniors.”
Davis is looking for volunteers of all ages to participate in the Friday/Saturday exercise, she said, as victims who need food and shelter for the night.
Several newly trained CERT members (community emergency response team) will be participating, as this is one of the ways the Red Cross can prepare volunteers.
“We’re just trying to give the shelter people some experience in what to expect,” Davis said. “So the first time that they get in that situation it won’t be the first time they’ve ever run a shelter.”
There are a lot of excellent preparedness discussions happening in the area right now, Davis said, from talks at the college to disaster preparation assistance from the Salvation Army.
“I’m just hearing a lot of really good stuff right now,” Davis said. “People are becoming aware, and I think it’s really good. Where people have prepared, have some sense of how to do things … they recover faster.”
If you wish to volunteer, Davis can be reached at 399-3530.
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