Alaska's Good Friday earthquake is still Earth's second most powerful on record

Alaska's Good Friday earthquake is still Earth's second most powerful on record
·3 min read
Alaska's Good Friday earthquake is still Earth's second most powerful on record
Alaska's Good Friday earthquake is still Earth's second most powerful on record

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On Friday, March 27, 1964, at 5:36 p.m., a magnitude 9.2 megathrust earthquake shook Alaska for four minutes and 38 seconds. It was Good Friday. It is still the most powerful earthquake ever to be recorded in North America. It's the second most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Earth's history, beat out by the 1960 event in Valdivia, Chile, which reached a 9.4 – 9.6 magnitude.

alaska earthquake
alaska earthquake

The Great Alaskan earthquake (or Good Friday earthquake), as it's called, collapsed structures, caused tsunamis, and killed about 131 people.

On that Friday, the Pacific and North American plates ruptured, releasing around 500 years of stress buildup. The epicentre was 20 km north of Prince William Sound.

Anchorage International Airport, Anchorage, Alaska. 1964. Damage From Seismic Vibration: Damage to Buildings Courtesy USGS
Anchorage International Airport, Anchorage, Alaska. 1964. Damage From Seismic Vibration: Damage to Buildings Courtesy USGS

Anchorage International Airport, Anchorage, Alaska, 1964. Damage From Seismic Vibration: Damage to Buildings. Courtesy of USGS

Anchorage's infrastructure was not built to sustain earthquakes and therefore a lot of the area was destroyed, including houses, buildings, sidewalks, roads, water and sewer lines and electrical systems.

Good Friday Earthquake at Turnagain Arm
Good Friday Earthquake at Turnagain Arm

The largest landslide in Anchorage occurred along Knik Arm between Point Woronzof and Fish Creek, causing substantial damage to numerous homes in the Turnagain-By-The-Sea subdivision. Courtesy of Wikipedia

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The earthquake triggered about 21 tsunamis; one tectonic wave and about 20 smaller ones. The smaller tsunamis were produced by landslides (both underwater and on land) and caused most of the tsunami damage. The waves from the tsunamis made it to 20 countries including Peru, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. The highest wave was in Shoup Bay, Alaska, measuring as high as 67 metres.

Alaska pipeline route near Valdez River
Alaska pipeline route near Valdez River

The Valdez townsite was abandoned and relocated following the 1964 earthquake and was used as a pipe yard for the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. Courtesy of Flickr/Wikipedia/CC BY 2.0

A 1.4-metre tsunami wave reached Prince Rupert, B.C. around three hours after the earthquake. The wave travelled to Tofino and made its way through a fjord to hit Port Alberni twice. The wave washed away 55 homes and damaged 375. Other areas in B.C. were impacted, resulting in around C$10 million ($81 million in 2018 Canadian dollars) worth of damage.

J.C. Penney Department Store at Fifth Avenue and D Street, Anchorage District, Cook Inlet Region, Alaska, 1964.  Courtesy USGS
J.C. Penney Department Store at Fifth Avenue and D Street, Anchorage District, Cook Inlet Region, Alaska, 1964. Courtesy USGS

J.C. Penney Department Store at Fifth Avenue and D Street, Anchorage District, Cook Inlet Region, Alaska, 1964. Courtesy of USGS

In the weeks to follow, there were hundreds of aftershocks. The same day, there were 11 aftershocks with a magnitude greater than 6.0. Thousands of aftershocks were felt in the region for more than a year.

To learn more about the Great Alaskan earthquake, listen to today's episode of "This Day In Weather History."

This Day In Weather History is a daily podcast by The Weather Network that features unique and informative stories from host Chris Mei.

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Thumbnail: Damage to Fourth Avenue. Courtesy of Wikipedia

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