It was 50 years ago today, at 5:36pm AST, when the megathrust earthquake hit southern Alaska. The ground shook for over 4 minutes, causing tsunamis that wiped out coastal villages before the shaking stopped. The magnitude 9.2 quake remains the largest to be recorded in North America. In the five decades since, no earthquake has matched the power of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake.
139 lives were lost (tsunami 124, earthquake 15), which, considering the magnitude of the quake, is amazingly low. The maximum tsunami wave height recorded was 67 meters (220 feet) at Shoup Bay in the Valdez Inlet. The community of Valdez was wiped out. Kodiak, Seward, Portage, Anchorage, Chitina, Glenallen, Hope, Homer, Moose Pass, among others, all saw severe damage.
In the day following the earthquake, there were 11 major aftershocks that reached a magnitude of 6.2 or higher. There were thousands of aftershocks in the three weeks after the main shock, and it was a year later when the aftershocks were no longer noticed.
Color graphic courtesy of Live Science, photos courtesy of the University of Alaska Archives.