The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

Snow does not dampen spirits during earthquake remembrance

Proclamation read, prayers said and memories passed on during ceremony


Valdez Star photo

Mayor Ruth Knight read a proclamation on the Kelsey Dock Monday declaring March 27 Earthquake Memorial Remembrance Day.

A little snow did not stop several dozen people from gathering Monday to remember those who died as a result of the Good Friday Earthquake of 1964.

The words "It was not a snow day," was said repeatedly Monday as volunteers shoveled space for the ceremony that took place on the Kelsey Dock while snow fell and obscured the list of names of those that perished during the quake and the resulting disasters.

Those on the dock came to remember the dead on the 53rd anniversary of the largest earthquake ever recorded in North America as Mayor Ruth Knight read a proclamation declaring last Monday "Earthquake Memorial Remembrance Day."

Benny James said a prayer and the names of those who died rang through the air, before flowers were tossed from the dock into the waters of Port Valdez.

Gov. Bill Walker, who grew up in Valdez in the aftermath of the earthquake, ordered flags to fly at half mast Monday, though the majority of state and city offices were closed for Seward's Day.

"I will never forget the Earthquake of 1964," Walker said Friday in a prepared statement. "Our small town of Valdez lost over 30 friends and neighbors. Alaskans pulled together to bury our loved ones, rebuild our communities, and forge a path forward for our state. This historic demonstration of the true spirit of the Last frontier provides an enduring and inspiring example to us today."

In the city's proclamation, Knight urged "...citizens to pause and remember those former Valdezeans who lost their lives during the 1964 earthquake."

The proclamation also acknowledges the great role played by the citizens of the surrounding communities after the quake, especially in Chitina, Copper Center, Glennallen, and Fairbanks.

Walker urged all Alaskans to be prepared for emergencies in his statement Friday.

"I encourage all Alaskans to be sure their emergency plans and kits are prepared for any future natural disasters," he said.

Valdez was little more than a fishing village of 800 people when the earthquake hit that Good Friday 53 years ago.

Valdez Star photo

Jim Gifford, left, helped spearhead the gathering Monday to remember those lost in the Good Friday Earthquake of 1964. Bennie James, right, led a prayer.

In addition to earthquake damage, an ensuing tsunami and raging fires further devastated the town's infrastructure, but not the spirit of its people.

While the ground under what is now referred to as Old Town was condemned for human habitation, a number of townspeople regrouped and moved the habitable structures of Old Town to the new town site, which is now built on lands largely donated by the heirs of early speculators who came to Valdez during its founding as an all-American land route to the gold fields of interior Alaska.

The town prospered and reinvented itself again, this time as an oil town, and again survived a major disaster in 1989, the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Ironically the oil spill also occurred on a Good Friday.

Like the proclamation said - remember. And do be prepared.


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