Survivors of the Great Alaska Earthquake remember trauma

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - This story was originally published Dec. 7, 2018, just days after the Nov. 30 earthquake rocked Southcentral Alaska.

Survivors of the Great Alaska Earthquake piled into the Wilda Marston Theatre Thursday, Dec. 7, to hear about a man’s lifelong quest to reconnect with friends after the 9.2 magnitude quake rocked Alaska.

Dan Kendall was a young boy living in Valdez when the earthquake turned his world upside down. "We left Valdez suddenly after the earthquake, and we didn't see the people we knew again," Kendall said.

Now, he’s a focus of the PBS series, "We’ll Meet Again: 1964 Earthquake" with Ann Curry.

At the showing of the film, Channel 2 spoke with several survivors with haunting memories of their own from the violent earthquake.

Karen Gibson was dyeing Easter eggs as the first tremors rolled around 5:30 in the evening, March 27, 1964.

“Gravity had lost supremacy during the earthquake,” Gibson remembered.

Even though Nov. 30’s earthquake awakened dormant memories in her mind, Gibson says it didn’t even compare in its horror.

“The difference between this earthquake last week,” Gibson said. “In the ’64 earthquake, I was convinced I was going to die. This one wasn’t that way.”

Gibson remembers the sound from the ’64 quake. “It was a thousand trains. It was deafening,” she said.

Nancy Amend had just returned from a friend’s house. She was 14 at the time.

“We thought the town was wiped out,” she said. “But comparing it today, the shaking was just as severe as a nine-point-something, in a 14-year-old’s mind.”

The big difference in Amend’s mind was the duration of the tremors. The Great Alaska Earthquake lasted over four minutes. She remembers thinking it would never end.

“I thought, ‘How can we live on a shaking earth like this?’” Amend said. “But it’s been a traumatic experience. We’ve carried it with us all these years, and many of us have a PTSD from that.”

The Great Alaska Earthquake unleashed a trauma, one unmatched in Alaska’s history as far as earthquakes go. That trauma was reawakened by Friday’s 7.0 magnitude quake.

But when asked how this most recent event compares to the ’64 earthquake, Kendall says he knew after the first two shocks that it paled in comparison.

"In the '64 earthquake, you couldn't stand up. You couldn't hold anything,” he said. “I wound up on my hands and knees like a lot of other people."

Kendall started the morning of Friday, Nov. 30 with his usual cup of coffee, sitting across the table from his wife when the quake hit. “She got up and she started holding the cupboards up, and I said don’t bother,” Kendall said.

Kendall has spent his life reconnecting with friends after his family left Valdez. He hopes the film will provide closure for anyone out there recognizing his story.

"Yeah if they see it, maybe they'll call me up and we'll talk," Kendall said.

The Alaska Earthquake Center says the ‘64 earthquake was around 1,000 times stronger than Friday's quake.

The municipality says Southcentral Alaska is still tallying up extensive damage, as aftershocks continue to disrupt the ground.

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