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Afognak Village History
Personal Accounts of the 1964 Earthquake & Tsunami

Compiled and Written by Dr. Gordon Pullar
Copyright © 2004 Native Village of Afognak

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Allen Lukin (born June 4, 1952)

“…My dad was in Kodiak or he was on his way back from Kodiak by himself to bring the boat back. And my sister was just a baby. My other three… two brothers and sister, were down on the beach. It was just about dinnertime and I was home with mom. And pretty soon, man, everything started shaking. Trees started shaking, you know, and I was wondering ‘What in the heck’s going on here?’. You know, it just, I mean that was weird. And after, after all the shaking quit she had the radio on and after a while they said there would be a tidal wave. So we had to, I sent my other brother, my youngest brother down to the beach to get the other kids up, up to the house. And we packed some belongings and somehow we started off going toward Aleut Town through the, what we call the Back Trail. We didn’t use the road next the beach, we used the Back Trail. And we got to the Aleut Town side and this, called Big Lake, there was probably six of us walking around the lake and who should be running across the lake with the ice breaking up behind her was my mom running carrying my baby sister. And we, you know, trying to holler to her, scream and whistle, and she couldn’t hear us and she was quite a ways away, you know. But she made it and we all gathered up at my grandparent’s house and I don’t know who decided for us the go up on the mountain but we went up, up the mountain a ways. Somebody, you know, they built fires and the moon was shining. And, I remember watching our new community hall going out along with another couple houses. Then in the meantime my dad showed up. He, he made it through that tidal wave. He said it just ran the boat up the beach, dropped the anchor and ran up, ran up the mountain. But it was weird.

Betty Nelson (born 1932)

It was March 27, 1964 and we just finished dinner and we were… and I put dish water on the stove in a dish pan to heat for doing the dishes because we had, you know, no running water. Our kids always say they were the running water. But anyway, about, I think it was about five o’clock…five thirty, that the…we always had little tremors, you know, and so we were kind of excited to have a little earthquake. But this one it, there was a lurch and then it, it was about maybe two seconds and then it started rumbling and it just started getting stronger and stronger. And the house began to crack and everything was creaking and the things…began to fall off the shelves.

And…Abner ran into the kitchen to turn off the stove and the dish pan was just, you know, bouncing all over the stove and the water was flying, sloshing out of the pan and it was a terrible noise. So Abner turned the stove off, the oil stove off and took the water off. And we, he went outside and jumped off the porch to see, you know, just jumped off the porch and almost knocked him down, it was just, and when I ran outside the, the trees were just bending back and forth and there was a light snow falling and it was just eerie.

There was… it was nice and calm but, you know, there was… and the ground was just going in waves. I remember stepping over these waves even, on the, on the ground. And underneath your feet it sounded like a freight train, you know, going, passing by or something. It was terrible noise.

And then, I had read in the Readers Digest about the… how the people in Hawaii would, there would be a big earthquake somewhere and they wouldn’t realize there was an earthquake but the tide would just go out. And they would run down on the beach to, to pick up all these beautiful shells, you know, they had to dive for all the time. And while they were down on the beach the wave would come in and just, you know, they would drown. So I said, I told Abner ‘we’d, we better do something because I think it’s gonna be a tidal wave.’ Because the, the water was just sucked outta the bay, you could see rocks and reefs and things that I mean you didn’t even know were there, you know. So… and then it started coming back and the kelp was just laying down, you know, like a big broom swept it out and then the tide would start coming up and the kelp would just start, you know, disappearing. Ohh.

And…so then so we got… Abner took his chain saw and, in case there were trees fallen across the road and there was. It was a good thing we did. And all we had was a case of canned salmon and kulich, and popcorn that the kids were popping for a movie that night. And root beer, yeah. So we threw all that stuff, you know, as much, I mean we threw what we had in the truck and we went, started driving up to the sawmill. Because the road was… it seemed like the wave was coming in from the open, you know, so we thought it would be best to go up through the, the, toward to Straits, toward the Back Bay where they anchored all the boats. And then as we began to drive over there I wouldn’t let Abner drive because I was so scared I didn’t think he’d drive fast enough. So, so I got in there and I, I drove, boy! And there were a few people along the way so we’d stop and, and pick them up and Abner had just…a Willys Jeep. It was an old Willys Jeep and we had just bought shocks for it and by the time we got up there the shocks were out. Yes, we had (15 people in there).

And so when we got to Back Bay we could see the water was like a big wave. There was no, ah, ah, it wasn’t breaking, you know, what do you call it? There was no crest of the wave it was just, the water was just, it looked like, ah, ah, I don’t know it was (like a) roller coaster.”

“Yes! It, it was higher in places, you know, and it just, it was so weird. But anyway, when we got in there and the tide came in and it rolled the boats, just rolled them over, you know, the masts were all just broken off. And you could hear all night there were tremors. We were up on the, on high ground where they had been logging, you know, went up that trail. And all night long you could hear this ‘shhhhhhhh’, you know, the water coming in and going out.

And then the next day, on the third day, everybody was so afraid of, we women were so afraid, I did not want to go back home because I thought maybe, you know, another earthquake would occur and another tidal wave would, would roll in. So on the third day we went… came back down to Afognak, and that was a very traumatic time because all the familiar houses and landmarks that you grew up with all your life were just gone.

And…where you could drive across the creek, a small creek there, it was about maybe, you know, wide as this room, fifteen feet maybe wide. Was just, there was a little lake in the back, kind of a pond, and the ice had just taken big chunks in that, in that creek was just a big, um…the lake was, everything was just full of saltwater. And the tides started coming in and it came up to the… up to parts… I mean up to heights that it never had been to before. We didn’t realize that the land had sank, you know, five to eight feet in some places. So it started coming in and it would come in almost over to, you know, over to the, up to the yard almost. So we were so, it was confusing, and, and, and, just frightening. It was like some kind of nightmare that you’ve, you know.”

Victoria Nelson Woodward

“What was I doing? …We just finished our dinner and what did we have? Corn beef and cabbage and carrots. And of course we had to do the dishes. So we got out of doing the dishes because we had to head to high ground. But I remember…the rumbling sound and trees that were probably sixty feet tall, they were like palm trees, you know, going. And then the wave, the ground and wave and the dogs down at the beach they were barking at the water and the birds they were flying, you know, erratically. Just…I don’t know if that was snow though that was falling, falling or if it was ash but it was kinda like that. Then I… I wanted to, while the house was shaking we were out on the porch, I remember mom and them saying ‘get in the doorway!’ Because they supposedly…safer there, you know.

So we were standing in the doorway and that’s when I remember seeing all this stuff. Watching the water and the birds and the dogs and the trees. Then after it, it quit I wanted to get my Easter dress and things, you know, and I wanted to pack them in the car because well, you know, it was Good Friday. And then, and dad said ‘no,’ so I put them high up in the closet. And when we took off in the car mom forgot to say that when we went over that bridge, we had gone over the bridge and the bridge washed out. And the other cars that were behind us, that may have been uncle Willis in the… they got stalled in the water of a low land. And you have to, if you’ve been to the village it’s, it’s just kinda like stretched along the coast so its real low in some areas. And the water came into the lake and their cars were stalled in the water so they had to get out of their cars, run across the lake and mom was saying that the tide was rising so the stalled water was breaking up that ice in March, you know. And the people were running across the lake to higher ground and we didn’t lose anybody in the… in Afognak.

But we did lose men…John Larsen…Harry Nielson, couple other people on his boat, the Spruce Cape. They were coming from Kodiak here, or going from Kodiak back to Afognak and I guess they were in shallow, shallow water and when the, when to tide went they were high and dry. And when the wave came back in it just smashed them against the, ah, rocks and everything. And he was talking, he was on the CB or the radio, shortwave radio talking to his mom in Afognak and he, she could hear the roaring in the background. And he said ‘oh mom, we don’t think,’ you know…we’re not gonna make it. …Then that was the end of it. But then I remember up on that mountain once we, once we got up to higher ground and the logging road, on the logging road, and the sawmill had several houses that we went to later. But I know that, I remember that night we were up there in our cars, and there were several cars and, and made bonfire and then you could see the Ouzinkie blinker from the mountain. And pretty soon, for like a half-hour, you couldn’t see it because the wave had gone over. And then the wave would subside I guess and you could see the blinker come back on.

And everybody, they just shared all their food and we made coffee and we all fell asleep and woke up the next morning to, you know, the men figuring out what they were going to do. Then we, we did stay in those houses at the sawmill for a couple days we went, well the men went down to look at the damage and then we stayed there.

Then I remember though going, once we got back down, like mom was saying after the three days, we slept with our clothes on because we were waiting for another earthquake. And mom would listen to the radio, they took turns all night I guess, listening to the radio for any alert, you know, tidal wave alert. And there was a false alarm. They were saying there was another ninety footer coming, you know, this is in the day, so we got all our things and we started going. We couldn’t, we didn’t even have time to go to the, um, road because see we had to park our car and go across that lagoon and when it was high tide you couldn’t go across you had to take a skiff to get to the other side.

Well we didn’t even bother with that. We just started going up the swamp, through the swamp and up toward the mountain behind our house. And then listening to the radio they said ‘it’s a false alarm you can go back.’ But we were too scared. I think we finally then, you know, decided to go back. But, you know, it was like we’d slept in our clothes for probably a month, huh?”

John Pestrikoff (born 1910)

“Well it happened on Good Friday, we were preparing for Easter, for Easter Sunday you know. Religious pictures see like crucifixion. And they build a new hall there, they just finish it, people, community hall, community hall. And that’s where we were gonna see the movies show anyhow. And anyhow and all people were gonna gather there and the earth shook. Shook I guess first. I don’t recall if the quake first came or the water started moving now I get all fouled up. The earthquake first and the water started moving.

But anyhow we started going. Freddie had car. The old Ford, he bought it from Helen, Helen Nelson. And we were gonna use that so long that path, you know, there was no road. Well it was flat enough to ride a car anyhow. As we getting close to church, church yeah, and water kept coming, coming up, up, up, I told Freddie we better turn back something’s gonna happen. So he mind me and we turn back, we just made it to the clear and behind water was raising up fast! Willis was trying to come to Aleut Town side... He had to jump off the car because the car was in the water already and it started rolling to the lake, car started rolling! That’s how bad it was, coming pretty fast.

He managed to make it to a kind of bridge there by Anderson before the water to there. And he come up to my place all soaking wet, you know, he waited too far. Just made it. I think Martha went the other way…Kenny, I guess Kenny one of them, his boys. So I gave them my pants, you know, packs, and what not, and dry cloths so could run up to higher ground. And, so that what he did. I watch from our place, you know. Tide was coming in, and drums were floating out, and driftwood was inland. And I was in a high little knoll in there and pretty soon I come down from the mountain and there was a great big tree about twenty feet long, I guess, it must have been old so long. And our place, about, say about five feet, the tide didn’t reach it. And next time went down there log was gone. It must have come again and pulled it out. I recognized it along the beach there, that’s how it was. Everything, auxiliary engine was under water, we had lights with, you know.

Yeah, it went higher, well that little shed where we had our light plant it was down lower and ours was out. Good thing I… Alvin happened to come, Alvin Nelson. And he gave Freddie a hand, you know, whether we saved our groceries, you know, I put some in the attic, you know, maybe water wouldn’t come up that far. But that’s what we did we save lot of flour could’ve been in the water, you know. Good thing they did. But their freezer, refrigerator was floating around in there, you know. …Down low where we kept the power house, power plant yeah. And, ah, well lot of stuff get wet anyhow. But anyway our house was dry when we come back and people from, you know after it settle down, people come from high, high place, up there where we were up to come down and have hot, something hot, hot water anyhow, you know… So that’s what happened and my boat was anchored where JR left it, right in front of Pajoman’s house there in the rock pile.”

“Harry told him the rudder broke, rudder broke he couldn’t go ahead no more because he couldn’t steer. Rudder stem broke here the only thing was turning up there was shaft. Rudder wasn’t turning you see, he left it there and boys come there to me up way up high say ‘your boat is still in one place.’ All the commotion some boats rolled, you know, and little anchor out. How did it escape that? I think she would be up in the woods or way out there someplace but it was still in the same place, never drug…Float up and dry up again, float up and dry up again.”

But anyhow the picture was…‘hey’ I told my wife ‘it’s suppose to be low tide and its high, its opposite.’ Yeah, and then I told ‘em ‘look at the water swirling around like at Whale Pass’, you know, swirling around. ‘Something is going to happen’, by that time I guess it shook and the old lady was making, baking a pie, she was staggering trying to save it you know. Trying to get out, in the house, you know. But anyhow after everything kind of settled down she made the pie, she baked it. And in the meantime we took it up to where we were gonna be, you know, and was it only one pie, bunch of people. When we divide this see to the people some of them wouldn’t have, you know. So figured, well we just take it back I guess home. So on the way down it was in a Pyrex pie plate you know and dropped it on the ice and out went the pie so we just…so nobody had pie!

Well, some people lost their houses and they moved to Dal Valley’s place, where Ike is now, Ike. And then some people cleaned their houses, you know, can’t live in them, you know. Sheratine's, it didn’t reach their house. Of course it happens, when it was frozen, ground was frozen. And that helped some of the buildings were stuck on the ground and didn’t break loose, they stayed there. Half way buried, you know, with water.”

John Nelson (born March 9, 1914)

“Yep. That was something. I didn’t know what really happened. Then I looked down to the lake and then I could see that, because the lake was frozen it was, the ice was pretty thick, when the, the… come together the water splashed right up, up in the air. Then I walked down to the beach and I could see the ocean was just moving. The water was just moving. Then I knew there was something. The tide was going right out, you know, right out. By the time I got to Derevnia there, crossed that bridge, the tide was almost up to the door, you know, it was coming back up again. Oh, the house. Picked it right up and turned it over to a different position.”

Ivan Lukin

Well we were getting ready to sit down to dinner and all of a sudden the ground started shaking so we all ended up on our little porch outside and the ground looked like a snake and the trees were jumping up in the air. From what I can remember looked like about…tree six feet straight up in the air. It’s a real wild experience and we went back in to sit down to eat after it was all over and somebody come running up and says, ‘Hey we’d better get to, get to higher ground.’ So we packed up and I don’t know if we got a ride or what happened. I remember over by the Russian Church that tide was coming in and one of the kids was gettin’, almost gettin’ taken out. I think uncle Peter or someone grabbed the kid, it might’ve been Wayne or somebody, I don’t remember. But Maria was a baby and back then and mom was carrying her across the lake and the lake was breaking right behind of her as she was running. I guess it was happening behind all of us, must’ve been. And then climbing the mountain, it seemed like it took forever to get up the mountain. By the time we were all staged up on the mountain there was big wall tents all over the place up there. So half the village on one end of the town and the other half at the other end. We were on the north end of the side of the village. So… and I don’t remember how long we stayed up there maybe two nights, I’m not sure I don’t remember. But, I guess you know sitting up there you had a bird’s eye view of everything and you watched the houses go out the new community hall and went out the streets and, and some of those, you know the streets dried up some areas places you never seen. Of course at that age I didn’t know what rock was what. It was a whole different experience for everybody. Made me understand the awesome power of our Creator seeing something like that happen.”

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Afognak History