"Communities, Disaster & Change" is a traveling exhibition coordinated by the Valdez Museum and Historical Archive, in Valdez, Alaska. It provides a twist on the fiftieth anniversary of the Good Friday Earthquake commemoration through its connection with other communities and other disasters. The exhibit will travel around the state as well as to Oregon, and Hawaii. The full travel schedule and complete online gallery of the exhibit can be seen here.

This blog serves as a place to host a global conversation about the indomitable nature of the human spirit and communities' reactions to change, how they survive disaster and how they rebuild for the future. We hope this can be a tool for people like you, all across the world, to reach out and share your stories on survival and the will to carry on.

If you have seen the exhibit whether online or in person we want to know your reaction to the work of these twenty-eight Alaskan artists. Please join us in an ongoing conversation, and chime in with your thoughts, views and your personal stories of your community, disaster, and change.

02 March 2015

Account of 1964 Earthquake

Image Taken Shortly After the 1964 Earthquake at the Valdez old town site
 Image was donated by Jackie Gunion in 2007 to the VMHA

This essay is an artifact in the Valdez Museum Historical Archive. It was generously donated by Merlyn Paine, James Rhode's wife. James Rhode donated numerous photographs in 1999, prior to his death. He worked as a State Engineer in the Aviation Division, based in Valdez, and was a commercial fisherman. Jim and a small cadre of skilled men stayed behind, following the 1964 earthquake, to assess damages in old town Valdez, AK. This essay was among Jim's personal items. In Merlyn's donation letter to the museum she writes "This essay is extremely moving and reminds me of the many stories my husband told me. He lost most of his staff and many friends in the Good Friday event."

Here is the Essay:

"Here is what happened to us on Good Friday, March 27, 1964"

"It was 5:35pm and time to get dinner ready, as Joe would be coming home for dinner around 6:00pm. He was down working as a longshoreman, unloading freight from the freighter, Chena. The ship comes in every other week with freight - this was the 4th time he had worked the ship."

"Now for Joe's story. He was told by Bill Schmidt (who was killed on dock) to go work the ship - therefore he is alive today. He and 8 other men were working, 2 on the main deck - 7 below in the hold. Their job was to place the freight onto pallets (base forms) so the wench could raise it to the deck of the Chena and dock. During the earthquake Joe's boss, Mr. Geigeroff  was killed, Jack King (was an arms length from Joe) had both feet amputated later and Joe had a chipped heel and instep bones. This was caused by the hatch breaking loose from above and catching the men. Asphalt barrels rolled over Harlod Kreigor who was crushed. The men scrambled up the rope ladder and were checking for injuries. When they reached the main deck, Joe said "The wave was returning to the bay and all the debris, he was certain Valdez was wiped off the map."...when the bay calmed down the tops of the buildings began to show, then he knew that I (his wife) might be alright. We were about 5 blocks from the bay. The Chena took to deeper water as soon as it could get power. The dock, warehouses and cars all disappeared. Our car,.....camper and all the camping equipment disappeared too. About 8:30pm the captain of the Chena asked Joe if he wished to go to Cordova with Mr. King who was injured, along with the other 2 killed. He said "No." But they lowered him in the life boat (due to his broken foot) and 5 others scrambled down the side into the life boat. Joe was expressing a thought, while being lowered in the boat he said "God don't let them dunk me!" Then arriving at the Chilkat (ferry landing) they proceeded on foot through knee deep debris laden oil slick water. It was 5 blocks to the dry land. The stores were closed due to high water and no lights. A fellow who was working on the light line saw Joe and his brother so he brought him home. How lucky we are to have Joe with us."

"Now I'll try to describe what it was like at our trailers. Trailers (two together) rocked and rolled, (5 foot of snow all around saved us, I am sure) moved 1" apart. I was deep frying fish, shut off the stove, put everything in the sink, turned the oil heater off and the oil line. I went across the street (Glacier Bar) to check on what to do and where I could call to see if Joe was alright. What a sight and smell. Whisky all over the place - the bar tender and two customers still sitting there laughing. I asked "Couldn't you have gotten behind the counter and held some of the bottles on the shelf. They couldn't do anything but stand there and watch. I ran out then discovered I had left the radio going, I went through the trailers, grabbed our suitcase, guns and various other items, put at the door as the alarm was to evacuate "Tidal Wave" expected. I was not going until I knew were Joe was. I did call Mrs. Schmidt, she had gone downtown twice and on the last trip found the dock was gone, and someone told her all the men were saved as they got them from the dock to the boat then took for deeper water. This was false as no one on the dock was able to get to the boat as it was being thrown up and down and on it's side. How the ship ever survived the quake is more than anyone can say."

"Around 9:00om Joe came home, limping. Told me the sad story about the men. I had to tell Mrs. Schmidt as we had promised which ever husband came in first we would notify the other one. We knew all that perished, 31 including the families (sight seeing). Then we went to the hospital to have the Doctor look at Joe's foot. Dr. was trying to get to the ship to help with the injured. So, we waited then the fire broke out, told to evacuate immediately. Our good neighbors, bar owners, took us out the road and stayed with us for 4 days. We took Joe to the hospital in Glen Allen and there they put on the cast. Back home within 4 days then a trip to Fairbanks as soon as Joe could drive to get a new car. We now have a 1964 Ford Falcon Club Wagon, not as good as the Chevy pickup but will do."

Essay donated by Merlyn Paine, Author Unknown


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