50th anniversary of the Great Alaskan Earthquake - KMSP-TV

50th anniversary of the Great Alaskan Earthquake

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Meteorologist Cody Matz Meteorologist Cody Matz

Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of the single largest earthquake ever recorded in North America.

The 9.2 magnitude quake lasted over 4 minutes and actually moved some houses, streets, and landmarks hundreds of yards from where they were.

This earthquake was some 10000 times stronger than the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco that struck during the World Series and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

On March 27, 1964, what has been dubbed as "The Great Alaska Earthquake" caused massive tsunamis as well, that devastated the Alaska coastal communities of Valdez, Seward, Kodiak and Whittier, and caused widespread destruction along the U.S. and Canadian west coasts.

The tsunamis alone caused an estimated $1 billion in damage and killed 124 people in Alaska, California and Oregon. Tsunami waves reached as far away as Hawaii. Scientists even measured a wave height of 219 feet in Valdez Inlet! The quake was huge, but large aftershocks as high as 7.0 lasted for three weeks afterwards.

What many may not realize is that earthquakes and tsunamis can happen anywhere, any time of the year, but Alaska is particularly prone to them because it sits on the convergence of two tectonic plates – the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate. At this boundary, the Pacific Plate is sliding beneath the North American Plate, causing the majority of Alaska's earthquakes.

Alaska can experience up to 24,000 earthquakes in a single year.

The tsunami of 1964 was a wake-up call for America. In its aftermath, the U.S. established the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, Alaska, one of two tsunami warning centers under NOAA that monitor and warn for tsunami threats around the clock, every day of the year.

Numerous advancements also have been made in the areas of science, technology and community preparedness since 1964.

The invention of new tools and faster data processing have drastically improved NOAA's ability to warn the public of tsunamis and to forecast their impact.

Seismic network upgrades, coastal tide gauge network improvement, and the deployment of deep ocean pressure sensors (DART) that are specifically designed to measure tsunamis all provide the raw data that scientists need to detect a tsunami.

These observations, coupled with automated earthquake processing systems and state-of-the-art numerical tsunami forecast models, enable NOAA scientists to quickly warn the public when a tsunami threatens the coastline.

In 1995, Congress established the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program, a partnership led by NOAA that includes the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey, and 29 U.S. states and territories, to carry out public education, community response planning, and accurate hazard assessment.

A major accomplishment of the program was the development of tsunami evacuation maps for populated areas along the U.S. Pacific Coast.

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