Good Friday Earthquake

The Good Friday Earthquake (also called the Great Alaska Earthquake) of March 27, 1964, was the most powerful earthquake in U.S. history. The magnitude 9.2 earthquake, which resulted in 131 deaths, was centered in Prince William Sound off the coast of South Central Alaska.

The earthquake

At 5:36 PM Alaska Standard Time (3:36 AM March 28, 1964 UTC), a fault between the Pacific and North American plates ruptured near College Fjord in Prince William Sound. The earthquake lasted for three to five minutes in most areas. Ocean floor shifts created large tsunamis, which resulted in many of the deaths and much of the property damage. Vertical displacement of up to 11.5 m (38 feet) occurred, affecting an area of 250,000 kmē (100,000 milesē) within Alaska.

Death toll and damage

131 people were killed as a result of the earthquake: nine in the earthquake itself, 106 from tsunamis in Alaska, and 16 from tsunamis elsewhere. Property damage was estimated at over $300 million (1964 dollars), or $1.8 billion in 2005 U.S. dollars.

Anchorage area

Most property damage occurred in Anchorage, 120 km (75 mi) northwest of the epicenter. Nine people were killed, the only deaths directly attributed to the earthquake. Anchorage was not hit by tsunamis, but downtown Anchorage was heavily damaged, and parts of the city built on clay or near bluff, most notably the Turnagain Heights neighborhood, suffered landslide damage. Most other areas of the city were only moderately damaged. The small coastal towns of Girdwood and Portage, located approximately 60 km (40 mi) southeast of Anchorage on Turnagain Arm, were destroyed. Girdwood was later relocated a few miles inland, while Portage, which subsided below the high-water level, was abandoned entirely.

Elsewhere in Alaska

Most towns in the Prince William Sound, Kenai Peninsula, and Kodiak Island areas, especially the major ports such as Seward and Kodiak, were heavily hit by a combination of seismic damage, tsunamis, subsidence, and/or fire. Valdez was destroyed; the town was later moved to more solid ground 7 km (4 mi) west of the original townsite. Several of the smaller, low-lying Alaska Native villages in the area (e.g., Chenega and Afognak), were mostly or totally destroyed.


A 1.4 m (4.5 ft) wave reached Prince Rupert, British Columbia, just south of the Alaska Panhandle, about 3.3 hours after the quake. The tsunami then reached Tofino, on the exposed west coast of Vancouver Island, and traveled up a fjord to hit Port Alberni twice, damaging 375 homes and washing away 55 others. The towns of Hot Springs Cove, Zeballos, and Amai also saw damage. The damage in British Columbia was estimated at $10 million Canadian in 1964 dollars, which is $65 million in 2005 Canadian dollars, or $56 million in 2005 U.S. dollars.


Twelve people were killed by the tsunami in Crescent City, California. Other towns along the U.S. Pacific Northwest and Hawaii were damaged. Minor damage to boats reached as far south as Los Angeles.

Since the entire earth vibrated as a result of the quake, minor effects were felt worldwide: several fishing boats were sunk in Louisiana, and in South Africa water was seen sloshing in wells.

Close Window