EUGENE, Ore. — Fifty years ago Thursday, the largest earthquake in U.S. history shook Alaska.
The 9.2 earthquake and tsunami claimed 131 lives, some here in Oregon.
A Eugene resident who survived the quake shared his story of that scary day.
‘It was almost a demonic roar was the sound that was coming up out of the ground,” said Bob Wolfskill.
The Good Friday Earthquake is forever etched in Wolfskill’s mind. He was a 20-year-old G.I. stationed at Fort Richardson, Alaska, when his young world was shaken.
“I always kind of felt like it was a contradiction to most of the laws of physics, you know, the things we saw,” Wolfskill said.
He says the ground waved.
“Three-story buildings going in three different directions at the same time, telephone poles being snapped off,” Wolfskill said.
The earthquake was the second largest in world history lasted and more than four minutes.
“Seemed like forever. You just sat there in complete helplessness because there was nothing you could do. You couldn’t run from it,” Wolfskill said.
More than 100 lives were lost from the quake and a tsunami that reached the West Coast. Four lives were lost in Oregon and 12 from the small town of Crescent City, California.
“The devastation was terrible and the people were so, so resilient. They pulled together. They helped each other,” Wolfskill said.
The devastation, though, may have helped us be better prepared for another big one. The quake and tsunami played a role in the formation of the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center. It also taught the U.S. Geological Survey what evidence to look for of previous quakes, including events in the Cascadia Subduction Zone off Oregon and Washington.
“It looks good. It’s great research. It’s impressive. But as they showed in Japan, Mother Nature is not impressed at all with what we try to do to stop her,” Wolfskill said.
Wolfskill says he’s relived the quake in his mind on this anniversary. He says the deadly shaking has actually helped keep him grounded for the last five decades.
“It will humble you. It really will. It will kind of put you in your place,” Wolfskill said.
Wolfskill says he was stationed in Anchorage for nearly two more years after the quake and got to witness in his words the remarkable resilience of the people there as they overcame this disaster.