Excerpt from Betty Arnett’s true story, “Lady, You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”
A personal account of the great Alaska Earthquake of 1964
It was close to five minutes of sheer terror. Down on the floor on all fours were all four of us. April, who was seven years old, had obeyed me and crawled under her bed in the adjoining room. Heather, my six year old, had crawled under the crib by her brother, who was three years old, and was nestled against my body. Had the walls come down, only April would have been protected because Hans’ crib would have crushed us with the weight of the wall. The floor jerked unceasingly up and down and back and forth. I felt helpless to protect my children further and so I cried out, “Pray! Children pray!” And in the next breath I prayed aloud over and over again, “Oh, God, please stop it! Please stop it! Please!”
The noise was such that it sounded as though the walls were falling in. In the midst of all of this movement and horrendous noise my young son was yelling, “It’s stopped, Mommie. It’s stopped!” I realize now that he had never seen his mother in such an emotional state. Perhaps that was his way of trying to bring this 9.2 earthquake to a halt. But it didn’t stop. It continued for another two long, interminable minutes. With the house dancing up and down, I feared it was the end of all of us. At long last the shaking subsided but the noise continued. We crawled out from under the beds and with great relief I saw that the walls were still standing. I was puzzled as to the source of the loud noise and didn’t realize it at the time but the basement walls had fallen in.
April called from the other room, “Mommie, come look! There’s a lot of people out in the street and they are staring at our house.” We joined her at the windows and I said, “Something awful must have happened to our house! We’d better get out of here!” As we ran down the hall and rounded the corner into the kitchen I glanced out the window and saw my neighbor’s two-story house sinking into the ground. I knew there wasn’t time to grab coats, boots, shoes or anything! I opened the carport door and saw two huge cracks in the concrete slab where the car was usually parked. It was March 27, and a light snowfall was on the ground. Hans and April were fully dressed but April had no shoes on. Heather’s feet were bare and she was wearing only a housecoat. I carried Heather in my arms and told April to grab her little brother’s hand. In the driveway we came upon two crevasses. I told April and Hans to jump and I attempted to do so myself but Heather’s weight threw me off balance and I landed on my tailbone. Fortunately, Heather’s feet never touched the ground. After successfully jumping the next crevasse, we reached the neighbors standing in the middle of the street.
“What is it?” I asked. “What has happened to my house?”
“Turn around and look,” replied one of them. When I turned to look I saw that the yard on the other side of my house had fallen into the earth 40 feet and all of the houses between ours and the bluff (a block and a half away) had fallen into the earth and were all tilted in all directions. The earth had stopped sliding into Turnagain Arm under one corner of our house.
Copyright © Betty Arnett