On March 27, 1964, Basil Ferrier and his son Del were fishing near Valdez, Alaska. They had rowed their skiff to shore from their fishing boat anchored in deep water when earth and sea began to move.
“A snowslide, set off by the forces working through the earth’s crust, roared toward them and — at the same time — their skiff was tossed out from shore. Their only refuge was behind a large tree in the path of the snowslide,” National Fisherman reported in the May 1964 article, “Earthquake Staggers Alaskan Fishing Industry.”
The Ferriers’ strange experience stands out among the many stories of Alaska’s Good Friday earthquake. After they had taken refuge behind the tree “an incoming wave carried the skiff back, almost to their feet. They jumped in it and rode out with the wave, but were unable to maneuver the skiff because the oars had been swept away. As if the fishing boat was a magnet for the skiff, the outgoing wave carried them to the side of their boat. They climbed aboard, cut the anchor and rode out the storm safely in deep water.”
They were safe, but the 4-plus-minute earthquake and the tsunami that followed devastated much of southern Alaska, its fishing fleet and processors. Among the casualties were fishing gear and boats around Kodiak Island, Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound. In Kodiak “fishing boats were picked up and tossed around like pieces of cork. Many are still unaccounted for, with no trace of the men aboard them.”
In Seward, eyewitness Robert Lenz described a wall of water and flames engulfing everything. “Docks on the waterfront catapulted into the air and disintegrated into flames. Railroad cars flew through the air, I saw one box car hurtled about a block.” The scene is depicted on the cover of National Fisherman in an illustration by Sam Manning.
But amid the stories of destruction, the National Fisherman article, written immediately after the earthquake, was hopeful about the Alaska industry’s future. Writer Tom H. Inkster looked back at how after the 1906 earthquake and fire, San Francisco “arose from her ashes to become a magnificent city, with one of the finest harbors in the world.
“We envisage the earthquake area of Alaska arising from the debris, just as did San Francisco to go onward to be — in a few years — more substantial and prosperous than ever. And while the fishing installations of that area are being reborn, the areas below — in Southwestern Alaska — and above — in the Aleutians and Bering Sea — will keep Alaska’s great fishing industry moving forward.”
It was a good prediction. I saw a reminder of the earthquake in my one trip to Alaska two years ago. The Star of Kodiak, once the World War II liberty ship named the Albert M. Boe, was towed to Kodiak after the canneries were destroyed, as a quick means of getting production back online. It is still part of the Trident Seafoods plant today and a symbol of the tenacity of an industry and its people who continue to move forward.