"And, behold ? The earth did quake and the rocks rent;"
A description of the first Good Friday
The gruesome dance of the earth finally stopped, leaving much of downtown Anchorage in ruins.
In four minutes of violent shaking, many buildings, roads, and waterfront structures were destroyed. On 4th Avenue, Anchorage's Main Street, commercial buildings and pavement dropped as much is 15 feet. Some multi-story structures were able to withstand the longer duration of shaking, while others crumpled and crashed to the ground.
The weekend following the earthquake was punctuated by 55 strong aftershocks (some over 5.0 on the Richter scale) which kept Anchorage's residents on edge. Despite massive property damage, only nine people perished in Anchorage. The time of day, moderate winter temperatures, and lack of subsequent fires kept the loss of life low.
The Destruction of the Alaska Railroad
In 1964, the Alaskan Railroad dominated the state's transportation. Completed in 1922, the 470 mile railroad connected the vital south-central ports of Seward and Whittier with Anchorage in the interior. Through these ports passed the waterborne freight that supported most of Alaska.
In four minutes, the Good Friday Quake changed the future of the Alaskan Railroad forever. Over 200 miles of railroad tracks were warped and twisted. 125 bridges and 110 culverts were repeatedly pounded and crushed. One hundred miles of rail bed were destroyed and 225 pieces of rolling stock were lost.
The railroad/port facilities in Seward were visited by the most destructive powers of the earthquake. Those parts of the railroad and waterfront dock not carried to sea by underwater slides were demolished by oil fires in subsequent tsunamis. A grim monument to the earthquake's amazing power that remained was a 60-ton locomotive engine that had fused with two freight cars.