1964 Alaskan Tsunami

  During the evening of March 27, 1964 (good Friday!), the area of Prince William Sound, in Southeastern Alaska (see figure above), was struck by a moment magnitude 9.2 earthquake, the largest ever recorded in North America. The quake was accompanied by large vertical displacements over an approximate 200,000 square mile area along the source fault, much of this beneath Prince William Sound. This vertical displacement generated a major tectonic tsunami that struck the southeast coast of Alaska, the Pacific Coast of British Columbia, and west coast of the United States. In addition to the tectonic tsunami, the violent shaking during the earthquake caused many large landslides and submarine slumps, which in turn produced destructive local tsunamis at many locations along the Alaskan coast. Due to the orientation of the fault that generated the tsunami, the largest waves outside of Alaska, occurred along the northwest Pacific coasts of Canada and the United States.  

Effects on Alaska

  As one might expect, damage from the 1964 tsunami was greatest along the southeastern coast of Alaska. Many of the coastal communities along Prince William Sound and Kodiak Island were completely wiped out. In all, tsunami waves generated by the 1964 quake killed 119 people and caused approximately 300 to 400 million dollars in damage to Alaska alone. Please select from the communities listed below, or click on the corresponding highlighted areas on the map above, for a more detailed description of the tsunami's effects at these locations.






Effects on Canada

The tectonic tsunami of 1964, propegated southward from Alaska, striking next along the coast of British Columiba, were it caused approximately 5 million dollars in damage. Communities along the southwest coast of Vancouver Island were hit hardest by the waves. The photos below were taken from a native village, located at the head of Hot Springs Cove, that wascompletely wiped out by the tsunami. The cities of Alberni and Port Alberni, located at the head of Albern inlet, were struck by 21-foot waves, that caused extensive damage and flooding. Though the waves struck at night, and without official warning, nobody was killed. Fortunately the first wave was small, which provided residents and authorities with sufficient time to prepare for the second, larger wave.

 Effects on the United States West Coast


The 1964 Alaskan tsunami is the largest and most destructive recorded tsunami to ever strike the United States Pacific Coast. Along the Washington coast, tsunami waves destroyed houses, cars, boats, and fishing gear, causing an estimated 80,000 dollars in damage to roads and bridges alone. At Ocean City, 5- to 6-foot tsunami waves collapsed the bridge over Copalis River. Wave heights at Moclips, Sea View, La Push and Wreck Creek reached an estimated 11, 12, 5, 7, and 15 feet, respectively.

Oregon was also hit hard by the tsunami, which killed four people and caused an estimated 750,000 to one million dollars in damage to bridges, houses, car, boats, and sea walls. The greatest tsunami damage in Oregon did not occure not along the ocean front as one might expect, but in the estuary channels located further inland, where those with the correct bathymitry actually amplified the wave tsunami wave heights. Of the communities effected, Seaside, struck by a 10-foot wave, was the hardest hit. Tsunami wave heights reached 10 to 11.5 feet in the Nehalem River, 10 to 11.5 feet at Depoe Bay, 11.5 feet at Newport, 10 to 11 feet at Florence, 11 feet at Reedsport, 11 feet at Brookings, and 14 feet at Coos Bay.

Out of the three west coast states, California was by far the hardest hit. Tsunami waves killed a total of 12 people, and caused an estimated 17 million dollars in damage. Of the 12 deaths, 10 occurred in Crescent City, which, due to bathymitry, was struck by a unusually large 21-foot wave. The tsunami flooded a large portion of the city, causing approximately 15 million dollars in damage. Further down the coast, wave heights at Humbolt Bay and Eureka reached 14 feet. The tsunami caused an esimated 1 million dollars in damage to San Francisco Bay, where it was only 3.7 feet high! Wave heights reached 10.1 feet at Half Moon Bay, 10 feet a Santa Cruz, 8.5 feet in Monterey, and 6.5 feet in San Diego. One person died in Los Angeles, when the 6-foot tsunami surge struck the Cerritos Channel.


 Effects at Hawaii and Other Pacific Locations

  The 1964 tsunami, like those from 1946 and 1957, traveled across the Pacific striking the Hawaiian Islands. Fortunately, due to the orientation of the generating fault, this time the wave heights were smaller and caused little damage. Maximum wave heights reached 12.5 feet at Hilo, 11 feet at Kuhului, and only 1-foot a Kana'i. When the tsunami reached Japan, it was a mere 3 to 10 inches high.  

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