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Professional Paper 542–D

Effects of the Earthquake of March 27, 1964, in the Homer Area, Alaska

By Roger M. Waller
with a section on Beach Changes on Homer Spit, by Kirk W. Stanley

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (21 MB)Abstract

The March 27, 1964, earthquake shook the Homer area for about 3 minutes. Land effects consisted of a 2- to 6-foot subsidence of the mainland and Homer Spit, one earthflow at the mouth of a canyon, several landslides on the Homer escarpment and along the sea bluffs, and minor fissuring of the ground, principally at the edges of bluffs and on Homer Spit. Hydrologic effects consisted of at least one and possibly two submarine landslides at the end of the spit, seiche waves in Kachemak Bay, ice breakage on Beluga Lake, sanding of wells, and a temporary loss of water in some wells.

Seismic damage to the community was light in comparison with that of other communities closer to the epicenter. One submarine landslide, however, took out most of the harbor breakwater. The greatest damage was due to the subsidence of the spit, both tectonically (2–3 ft) and by differential compaction or lateral spreading (an additional 1–4 ft). Higher tides now flood much of the spit. The harbor and dock had to be replaced, and buildings on the end of the spit had to be elevated. Protection works for other buildings and the highway were needed. These works included application of fill to raise the highway and parts of the spit above high tides. Reconstruction costs and disaster loans totaled about $2½ million, but this amount includes added improvement costs over preexisting values.

Homer Spit in particular and the Homer area in general rank as areas where precautions must be taken in selecting building sites. The hazards of landslides, earthflows, compaction and submarine slumping—all of which might be triggered by an earthquake—should be considered in site selection.

In plan, Homer Spit resembles a scimitar with its curving blade pointed seaward. It is about 4 miles long and as much as 1,500 feet wide. The spit is composed largely of gravel intermixed with some sand.

After the earthquake and the resulting tectonic subsidence and compaction, much of the spit was below high-tide levels and consequently flooded periodically. The entire beach face has retreated. Much of the material eroded from the beach has been redeposited to form a new storm or frontal berm, locally migrating around buildings and covering roads. Beach recession of 10–15 feet is probably the overall average; maximum recession 1 year after the earthquake was 56 feet along one limited section of the distal end of the spit.

Subsidence of the mainland has caused accelerated erosion of the beaches and headlands that have been—and are—source areas for the material deposited on Homer Spit. The resulting increased supply of gravel and sand probably will cause the spit to widen gradually on the Cook Inlet side. Similarly, the new frontal berm will probably grow to a height sufficient to prevent overtopping by all but the larger storm swashes. The nature of shore processes on the spit has not been materially altered by subsidence, but the rates of erosion and deposition have been accelerated. The lasting effect of subsidence (excluding flooding) will be enlargement of the beach on the Cook Inlet side and gradual wasting of the beach on the bay side of the spit.

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:

Waller, R.M., 1966, Effects of the earthquake of March 27, 1964, in the Homer area, Alaska, with a section on Beach changes on Homer Spit, by Stanley, K.W.: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 542–D, 28 p., 1 sheet, scale 1:2,400,




Personal Observations

Effects of the Earthquake

Seismic History and Conclusions

Beach Changes on Homer Spit

References Cited

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