Kake resident remembers ’64 earthquake as state recognizes disaster saftety

Four Seasons Apartments, Anchorage after the 1964 earthquake. (USGS Website)

It’s Tsunami Preparedness Week in Alaska this week. Wednesday morning (March 29) a tsunami warning test message will broadcast over radios and TVs in at-risk communities across the state. The drill takes place once a year, and one village in Southeast has not forgotten the importance of being ready when disaster strikes.

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Marvin Kadake remembers Mar. 27, 1964 like it was yesterday.

“I tell you, it was something,” Kadake said. “When you looked up at town here, you could see all the light poles shaking, just like they were rubber.”

A 9.2 magnitude earthquake shook the state that day. Kadake was in Kake, a small coastal village about 40 miles east of Sitka.

“It was a flat, calm day like today and you could actually see the tide going out,” Kadake said.

Kadake was in his car when the ‘64 earthquake hit.

“We couldn’t even get out of the vehicle it was shaking so much,” Kadake said. “And the people out on the dock were just holding onto the railings.”

If you’re at or near sea-level when an earthquake hits, there’s risk a tsunami will follow. That’s because the tectonic plates that shifted and caused the quake are probably below the ocean floor. So, that shift pushes a wall of water up, causing a tidal wave. The video says to get to higher ground or go farther inland. But that’s not what happened in Kake in 1964.

“As the tide is receding, some of the young guys were just hollering and screaming and running– following the tide going out,” Kadake said.

Kadake said that was an eye-opening experience for him.

“They survived, but they’ll never do it again,” Kadake said. “It was just some experience — to go through those motions.”

The 1964 earthquake, which devastated much of Southcentral, was also a wake-up call for Kake. Some of those light poles Kadake said were shaking like rubber– they toppled over and a section of the road crumbled away.

After that, the city moved the health clinic and fire hall to higher ground. That’s also where the senior center and high school are.

Kadake has been with the volunteer fire department for more than 60 years. The department now has a plan in place to make sure everyone is accounted for. He says the first time they did a headcount drill at the school it didn’t exactly go so well.

“Nobody knew about it– the teachers– nobody knew who we hid away,” Kadake said. “They had a head count, and you know what? They didn’t even know who was missing.”

The National Weather Service broadcasts tsunami warnings across Alaska at least once a year. That’s when the community of Kake runs their own drills. They make sure the clinic is stocked and all the school kids are accounted for. They also have tsunami sirens that blare across town.

“It’s just a big issue here in Kake and we take this drill very seriously,” Kadake said.

Like a lot of communities in Alaska, Kake wasn’t prepared for an earthquake like the one the one that hit in 1964. Now, Kadake said, they’ll be ready.

Emily Russell is the voice of Alaska morning news as Alaska Public Media’s Morning News Host and Producer.

Originally from the Adirondacks in upstate New York, Emily moved to Alaska in 2012. She skied her way through three winters in Fairbanks, earning her Master’s degree in Northern Studies from UAF.

Emily’s career in radio started in Nome in 2015, reporting for KNOM on everything from subsistence whale harvests to housing shortages in Native villages. She then worked for KCAW in Sitka, finally seeing what all the fuss with Southeast, Alaska was all about.

Back on the road system, Emily is looking forward to driving her Subaru around the region to hike, hunt, fish and pick as many berries as possible. When she’s not talking into the mic in the morning, Emily can be found reporting from the peaks above Anchorage to the rivers around Southcentral.

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