One of the greatest geotectonic events of our time occurred in southern Alaska late in the afternoon of March 27, 1964. Beneath a leaden sky, the chill of evening was just settling over the Alaskan countryside. Light snow was falling on some communities. It was Good Friday, schools were closed, and the business day was ending. Suddenly without warning half of Alaska was rocked and jarred by the most violent earthquake to occur in North America this century.
The descriptive summary that follows is based on the work of many investigators. A large and still-growing scientific literature has accumulated since the earthquake, and this literature has been freely drawn upon here. In particular, the writers have relied upon the findings of their colleagues in the Geological Survey. Some of these findings have been published, but some are still being prepared for publication. Moreover, some field investigations are still in progress.
This is the first in a series of six reports that the U.S. Geological Survey published on the results of a comprehensive geologic study that began, as a reconnaissance survey, within 24 hours after the March 27, 1964, Magnitude 9.2 Great Alaska Earthquake and extended, as detailed investigations, through several field seasons. The 1964 Great Alaska earthquake was the largest earthquake in the U.S. since 1700. Professional Paper 541, in 1 part, describes Field Investigations and Reconstruction Effort.