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Professional Paper 542–B

Effects of the Earthquake of March 27, 1964, at Whittier, Alaska

By Reuben Kachadoorian

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (20 MB)Abstract

Whittier, Alaska, lying at the western end of Passage Canal, is an ocean terminal of The Alaska Railroad. The earthquake that shook south-central Alaska at 5:36 p.m. (Alaska Standard Time) on March 27, 1964, took the lives of 13 persons and caused more than $5 million worth of damage to Government and private property at Whittier.

Seismic motion lasted only 2½–3 minutes, but when it stopped the Whittier waterfront was in shambles land the port facilities were inoperable. Damage was caused by (1) a 5.3-foot subsidence of the landmass, su5cient to put some of the developed land under water during high tides, (2) seismic shock, (3) fracturing of fill and unconsolidated sediments, (4) compaction of fill and unconsolidated deposits, (5) submarine landslides which generated waves that destroyed part of The Alaska Railroad roadbed and other property, (6) at least two, but probably three, waves generated by landslides, which completely wrecked the buildings of two lumber companies, the stub pier, the small-boat harbor, the car-barge slip dock, and several homes, and (7) fire that destroyed the fuel-storage tanks at the Whittier waterfront.

Many buildings and other facilities were totally wrecked, others were damaged to lesser degrees. For example, the 14-story reinforced concrete Hodge Building, which rests upon at least 44 feet of sandy gravel, was moderately damaged by seismic shock, but the six-story reinforced-concrete Buckner Building, which rests upon bedrock, was only slightly damaged.

First posted October 17, 2012
Revised August 19, 2013

For additional information:
Contact Information, Menlo Park, Calif.
   Office—Earthquake Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
345 Middlefield Road, MS 977
Menlo Park, CA 94025

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Suggested citation:

Kachadoorian, R., 1965, Effects of the earthquake of March 27, 1964, at Whittier, Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 542–B, 21 p., 3 sheets, scales 1:4,800, ~1:6,000, and ~1:6,000,




Geographic Setting


Descriptions of the Earthquake

Effects of the Earthquake

References Cited

Three plates

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