The Largest Earthquake in US History Happened 50 Years Ago Today

By Alissa Walker on at

At 5:42 a.m. on March 27, 1964, a 9.2-magnitude earthquake erupted 78 miles east of Anchorage, Alaska. The earthquake remains the most powerful earthquake to strike North America, and the second-largest earthquake ever measured.

In addition to almost three minutes of shaking, the earthquake unleashed unimaginable devastation to Alaska's landscape, including tsunamis, liquefaction, ground fissures, avalanches, and underwater landslides. The coastline was resculpted, and some areas saw the earth raised as high as 30 feet. In the days after the earthquake, 11 aftershocks were recorded with a magnitude greater than 6.2.

Only 139 people died in the earthquake, however, and only 15 as a direct result of the quake itself. Most people died from the two tsunamis, including 5 people in Oregon and 13 in California. Many areas of Anchorage and Juneau had to be completely redeveloped. Here are some of the most incredible photos taken after the biggest US quake ever.

 

A landslide wiped out a neighbourhood in Anchorage

The Largest Earthquake In U.S. History Happened 50 Years Ago Today


In Anchorage, the Denali Theater collapsed in a landslide, causing its marquee to rest on the sidewalk

The Largest Earthquake In U.S. History Happened 50 Years Ago Today


Ground fissures like this were so powerful they displaced concrete foundations and severed utility lines

The Largest Earthquake In U.S. History Happened 50 Years Ago Today


A span of the Million Dollar Bridge collapsed into the Copper River

The Largest Earthquake In U.S. History Happened 50 Years Ago Today


A landslide tore apart the Government Hill school in Anchorage

The Largest Earthquake In U.S. History Happened 50 Years Ago Today


A two-feet wide ground fracture opened in Seward

The Largest Earthquake In U.S. History Happened 50 Years Ago Today


These rails were torn from their ties on the Alaska Railroad from ground movement

The Largest Earthquake In U.S. History Happened 50 Years Ago Today


The air traffic control tower at the Anchorage airport collapsed in the shaking

The Largest Earthquake In U.S. History Happened 50 Years Ago Today


Cars and boats were scattered across the Kodiak waterfront by one of several tsunamis

The Largest Earthquake In U.S. History Happened 50 Years Ago Today


Fissures opened on a highway near Portage

The Largest Earthquake In U.S. History Happened 50 Years Ago Today


The village of Portage sank six feet due to tectonic subsidence

The Largest Earthquake In U.S. History Happened 50 Years Ago Today


Along the coast, the sea floor was raised up to 30 feet

The Largest Earthquake In U.S. History Happened 50 Years Ago Today


You can see the white marine organisms and ropes of kelp that were stranded on the new cliffs

The Largest Earthquake In U.S. History Happened 50 Years Ago Today


An ancient forest which had been submerged was pushed nine feet above sea level

The Largest Earthquake In U.S. History Happened 50 Years Ago Today


The port of Valdez had to be permanently relocated after underwater landslides moved the shoreline

The Largest Earthquake In U.S. History Happened 50 Years Ago Today


A truck was wrapped around a tree in waves generated by underwater landslides near Seward

The Largest Earthquake In U.S. History Happened 50 Years Ago Today

All photos by USGS