1964 Prince William Sound Tsunami

On March 28, 1964, at 03:28 GMT, an earthquake occurred in Prince William Sound of Alaska triggering a Pacific-wide tsunami. The earthquake had a surface-wave magnitude of 8.4, an epicenter of 61.1° N, 147.5° W, and a depth of 23 km. The earthquake, local tsunamis due to landslides, and the regional tsunami were responsible for taking the lives of more than 122 people and causing over $106 million in damage.

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The Surge wave left a 2 x 12 in. (5.2 x 31 cm) plank in a truck tire at Whittier, Alaska. Whittier incurred $10 million in property damage. One of the waves, probably the same one that caused the major damage in Whittier, reached a height of 31.7 m above low tide. At Whittier the waves destroyed two saw mills; the Union Oil Company tank farm, wharf and buildings; the Alaska Railroad depot; numerous frame dwellings; and the railroad ramp handling towers at the army pier. They also caused great damage to the small boat harbor. The tsunami killed thirteen people at Whittier, then a community of 70 people. Photograph Credit: U.S. Geological Survey. Source: National Geophysical Data Center.

The greatest amount of damage suffered by any location was Alaska. In Alaska the death toll was 106 and there was $84 million in damage. Among Alaskan areas the run-up measurements varied from 24.2 m at Blackstone Bay, 27.4 m at Chenega, 9.1 m at Valdez, and 6.1 m at Kodiak. Outside Alaska it took 5.4 hrs for the first wave to arrive at Hilo, Hawaii, where the run-up was measured at 3.0 m. Another city outside Alaska that received measurable run-up was Crescent City, CA, where a 4.3 m run-up was recorded 4.1 hrs after the tsunami was triggered.

[Link to Image]Both the railroad yard and seaport facilities at Seward, Alaska, received heavy damage.

Even though the regional tsunami was very destructive the local tsunamis also caused significant damage. The local tsunamis were generated by landslides, which were triggered by the earthquake. At the Valdez Inlet a large landslide was triggered by the earthquake generated a tsunami that had a run-up measured at 67.0 m in the inlet. In areas where local tsunamis were generated by landslides nearby cities were given no warning of the oncoming waves. The inability to properly warn the Alaska region prompted the creation of the Alaska Tsunami Warning Center. The warning center can quickly warn towns of any threat of local tsunamis.

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