Understanding, research continue to grow 53 years after Alaska’s Good Friday quake, tsunami

Earthquake damage
Damage to the State Highway 109 bridge over the Copalis River near Copalis Beach caused by a distant tsunami from the 1964 Alaska earthquake. Courtesy of the Daily World, Aberdeen.

On a quiet evening 53 years ago, the largest earthquake ever recorded in North America struck near Prince William Sound in southeast Alaska. The 9.2 Good Friday earthquake destroyed buildings and infrastructure in Alaska as it shook for almost four-and-a-half minutes and resulted in 131 deaths.

But it was the following morning that Washington felt effects of the quake. The tsunami that ensued from the subduction zone earthquake did damage along the west coast, washing over Washington as it spread south along Oregon and California.

Tsunami waves as high as 15 feet destroyed houses, cars, boats, and fishing gear. Waves of five to six feet high washed out a bridge on Highway 109 over the Copalis River.

Waves continued south, and took the lives of one person at the Klamath River in California, four people at Beverly Beach State Park in Oregon and 11 in Crescent City, Calif.

Warning system resulted

Fortunately, the quake didn’t just produce damage.

Recognizing the danger tsunamis present to coastal communities, emergency officials began posting signs to show tsunami evacuation routes along the Pacific Coast. Sirens were also added in coastal towns. Those warning systems were amplified after the devastating tsunami that swept through the Indian Ocean in 2004.

Boosting the warning

DNR’s Geology and Earth Resources Division, the state’s official geologic survey, is helping Washington communities identify how they are vulnerable to similar tsunami events and how they can craft innovative strategies for dealing with those threats.

DNR has produced tsunami inundation map to show how tsunamis would likely impact communities like Everett and the pacific coast. You can find interactive tsunami evacuation maps on DNR’s Geologic Information Portal and even download an app for your smart phone that identifies hazard zones along the Washington and Oregon coasts.

DNR’s Geology Division also documents tsunami-related news in our bi-monthly newsletter, TsuInfo.

The Washington Emergency Management Division says the best way to survive any type of disaster is to have a plankeep informed, and have a mobile survival kit. Find out if you are in a tsunami inundation zone. Download a tsunami evacuation brochure for your community. DNR worked with local governments to produce these brochures.

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