Effects of the earthquake of March 27, 1964 on the communities of Kodiak and nearby islands

Professional Paper 542-F
By:  and 



The great earthquake (Richter magnitude of 8.4–8.5) that struck south-central Alaska at 5:36 p.m., Alaska standard time, on March 27, 1964 (03:36, March 28, Greenwich mean time), was felt in every community on Kodiak Island and the nearby islands. It was the most severe earthquake to strike this part of Alaska in modern time, and took the lives of 18 persons in the area by drowning; this includes two in Kodiak and three at Kaguyak. Property damage and loss of income to the communities is estimated at more than $45 million.

The largest community, Kodiak, had the greatest loss from the earthquake. Damage was caused chiefly by 5.6 feet of tectonic subsidence and a train of 10 seismic sea waves that inundated the low-lying areas of the town. The seismic sea waves destroyed all but one of the docking facilities and more than 215 structures; many other structures were severely damaged. The waves struck the town during the evening hours of March 27 and early morning hours of March 28. They moved from the southwest and northeast: and reached their maximum height of 20–30 feet above mean lower low water at Shahafka Cove between 11:00 and 11:45 p.m., March 27. The violently destructive seismic sea waves not only severely damaged homes, shops, and naval-station structures but also temporarily crippled the fishing industry in Kodiak by destroying the processing plants and most of the fishing vessels. The waves scoured out 10 feet of sediments in the channel between Kodiak Island and Near Island and exposed bedrock. This bedrock presented a major post-earthquake construction problem because no sediments remained into which piles could be driven for foundations of waterfront facilities.

Because of tectonic subsidence, high tides now flood Mission and Potatopatch Lakes which, before the earthquake, had not been subject to tidal action. The subsidence also accelerated erosion of the unconsolidated sediments along the shoreline in the city of Kodiak.

Seismic shaking lasted 4½–5½ minutes at Kodiak and had a rolling motion. Inasmuch as most of Kodiak is underlain by bedrock or by only a thin veneer of unconsolidated sediments, very little if any damage occurred from ground motion or seismic shaking. The ground motion, however, did cause a massive short circuit and power failure at Kodiak.

The Kodiak Naval Station, 5 miles southwest of Kodiak, was also severely damaged by the earthquake. The station was inundated by at least 10 seismic sea waves which reached a maximum height of 25 feet above post-earthquake mean lower low water between 11:16 and 11:34 p.m. on March 27, 1964. The first seismic sea wave that inundated the station did not do severe damage because it behaved much like a rapid rise of tide, but the subsequent and more violent waves destroyed most of the docking facilities and several other shoreline structures. The waves struck the station from the southwest and from the east.

The shoreline structures that were not destroyed required rehabilitation because the 5.6 feet of tectonic subsidence put them under water during the highest tides. Furthermore the subsidence accelerated erosion during high tide of the soft unconsolidated sediments and fill in the low-lying areas of the station.

Seismic shaking did little damage to the station housing facility, but it was responsible for compaction of sediments, lateral displacement of a seawall, and the development of fissures in the aircraft parking area. The ground motion was as south-southeast–north-northwest to north-south in direction.

An unusual case of radioactive contamination was reported at the naval station. The inundating seismic sea waves entered a building in which radionuclides were stored. The contamination was restricted to the building only, however, and did not spread throughout the station.

Afognak was abandoned because of the extensive damage incurred from tectonic subsistence and seismic sea waves. The seismic effects, estimated Mercalli intensity VI-VII, did not directly cause any significant property damage at Afognak Serious long-term damage, however, resulted from tectonic subsidence estimated to be from 3½ to 5½ feet. The subsidence has resulted in rapid erosion of the coast, landward shift and building up of bench berms to the new higher sea levels, and flooding of extensive low-lying areas behind the barrier beaches. Inundation of low-lying parts of the village by a train of seismic sea waves having maximum heights of 10.8 feet above post-earthquake tide level (14.5 ft above post-earthquake mean lower low water) caused losses of about half a million dollars to homes, vehicles, bridges, and personal possessions.

Uzinki was damaged by tectonic subsidence and seismic sea waves. No significant damage resulted from the ground motion during the earthquake; the Mercalli intensity was about VI. However, tectonic subsidence, estimated to be 5 feet, caused inundation of a narrow zone along the waterfront. Structures and vessels were damaged as a result of the seismic sea waves that repeatedly flooded the waterfront area after the earthquake.

Old Harbor was damaged by seismic shock, subsidence, and seismic sea waves. The tremors, which had a Mercalli intensity estimated at VII-VIII, toppled two concrete-block chimneys, cracked interior walls, and caused minor breakage of personal property in the homes. Regional tectonic subsidence and superficial subsidence of the unconsolidated deposits on which the village is situated apparently caused incursion of salt water into the school well. A quarter of million yards of fill was required to raise the waterfront areas to their pre-earthquake elevations relative to sea level. Seismic sea waves having a maximum runup of about 12 feet above tide level (16 ft above post-earthquake mean lower low water) destroyed 34 of the 35 residences in the village and presumably drowned one man who lived immediately across the strait from Old Harbor.

At Kaguyak, seismic sea waves having a maximum runup of about 25 feet above mean lower low water carried away all 10 buildings in the village, took three lives, and damaged an unknown number of fishing vessels. The village site has been abandoned. The communities of Akhiok, Karluk, and Larsen Bay were virtually undamaged by the earthquake tremors, which had estimated Mercalli intensities of VI-VII, but tectonic subsidence of about 2–2½ feet at Larsen Bay made it necessary to raise the cannery dock level at an estimated cost of $80,000.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Effects of the earthquake of March 27, 1964 on the communities of Kodiak and nearby islands
Series title Professional Paper
Series number 542
Chapter F
DOI 10.3133/pp542F
Year Published 1967
Language English
Publisher U.S. Government Printing Office
Publisher location Washington, DC
Contributing office(s) Menlo ParkCalif. Office-Earthquake Science Center
Description Report: vi, 41 p.; 1 Plate: 20.53 x 16.53 inches
Larger Work Type Report
Larger Work Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Larger Work Title The Alaska earthquake, March 27, 1964: Effects on communities (Professional Paper 542)
Country United States
State Alaska
Other Geospatial Kodiak Island
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
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