Wall of Water

Port Alberni Tsunami

Tsunami waves struck Port Alberni in 1964, tossing cars like matchsticks. Photo courtesy of the Alberni Valley Museum.

March 1964. Sean Connery is shooting Goldfinger, “She Loves You” is number 1, and Ford has just unveiled the Mustang. And on Good Friday, somewhere under Alaska, two plates slip past each other.

At magnitude 9.2, the resulting quake is the second largest in recorded history. Felt as far away as Texas and Louisiana, the shaking lasts over four minutes – enough time to listen to “She Loves You” twice and then some.

Before the shaking can stop, what witnesses call “a black wall of water” slides up the Valdez Inlet, crushing communities along the shoreline. This is just the first in a series of deadly waves triggered by underwater landslides in the fjord. The tallest of these measures 67 metres – a third taller than the 2011 tsunami in Japan.

Meanwhile, shifts on the ocean floor have sent more waves surging into the Gulf of Alaska and across the water to smash into coastal British Columbia, Oregon and California. In the twin cities of Alberni and Port Alberni, the waterfront is declared a disaster area after waves flood the streets, snap power lines, flip cars and demolish buildings.

Prepare to live

More than 50 years later, the Great Alaska Earthquake is a chilling reminder that life can change in minutes, which is why PreparedBC is encouraging British Columbians to get TsunamiSmart. So what should you know?

  • The three pillars of disaster readiness: Know the risks; have a plan; get a kit.
  • If you feel strong shaking, drop, cover and hold on. Get to high ground quickly and stay there.
  • Listen to tsunami alerts from lead agencies, even if you don't feel the ground shake. Learn more about the tsunami notification process.
  • Know your zone and know the difference between a tsunami watch, advisory, and warning.
  • Visit Emergency Info BC and follow @PreparedBC on Twitter.