In their report prepared in 1965 and published in 1967, Kachadoorian and Plafker said, Of an estimated 38 structures in the village, 23 were either extensively damaged or destroyed. Many structures, including the grocery store and community hall, were floated from their foundations and washed as much as a half a mile inland
In addition, most of the estimated 26 automobiles in the village were either damaged by the water or destroyed by the waves; two bridges were washed out along the coastal road.7 As a result of the tectonic subsidence at Afognak some of the wells used for water supply were contaminated by salt water.8
Kachadoorian and Plafker described the initial wave hitting Afognak as told to them by resident Willis Nelson shortly afterwards:
The initial wave at Afognak coincided approximately with low tide, but its exact arrival time is uncertain. Mr. Willis Nelson of Afognak described the waves as successive tides that were accompanied by a powerful current action and roaring sounds, especially at withdrawal. Mr. Nelson believes that the current velocity is indicated by a truck which was rolled into the trees by a wave and demolished the speedometer had jammed at 22 mph. The initial wave was followed by progressively higher waves that came in on a flooding tide. The highest wave, which stopped a clock in one residence at 9:27 p.m., was either the third or fourth of the train. By this time the residents had evacuated their homes and fled to the hills behind the village; from there they saw by moonlight, most of the structures floating away on the highest wave
By far the largest area inundated was in the vicinity of the airstrip and the adjacent low area to the north that was formerly a swamp but is now a shallow lagoon.9
Afognak was fortunate not to have had any loss of life in the village from the earthquake or tidal wave.10 The Spruce Cape, a fishing boat from Afognak, was returning from Kodiak when the tidal wave hit. The skipper, John Sut Larsen, died, and ironically, his body was later found at Spruce Cape, the landmark after which his boat was named.11 Harry Nielson, another Afognak resident, also perished on the boat as did a Panamarioff of Ouzinkie.12
Yule Chaffin described the impact of the earthquake and tidal wave in her 1967 book, From Koniag to King Crab. She wrote:
To the north and east of Kodiak a few miles across Afognak Strait, lay the ancient native village of Afognak. Once it had been a large village of over a thousand inhabitants. In recent years the population had dwindled to 178 residents. These people made their living from the sea just as their ancestors had done for hundreds of years before them. They lived in small cabins and frame houses stretched along the lowlands facing the sea.
Shortly after the earth heaved and convulsed on that fateful day in March, the sea drew away from the land leaving the reefs and ocean floor bare. The oldtimers among them knew these ominous signs of a tidal wave. Hurriedly, they grabbed blankets, provisions and warm clothes, and tossing them into cars and trucks, they piled in and raced for the mountains behind the village. Monstrous rollers surged over their homes smashing them like kindling wood, then the mad whirlpool of debris was sucked back into the bowels of the ocean. All night long the ocean surged forward and receded. For three days the villagers huddled in the snow and cold while smaller tremors still spasmodically shook the earth beneath them. When they finally returned to their village, they found that 23 of their 38 homes were totally destroyed. Although they didnt know it at the time, the ancient village of Afognak would be no more.13
Victoria Nelson Woodward remembered the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami. She said:
Then I remember too, when the island settled and the storms would come in, the Northeast storms. We couldnt go to school if the tide was high so the men would have to take us through the back road to school. And then when the tide was out we could come back on the road, back to our houses. Well wed be coming back and there would be a cow lying there that a bear had just killed, you know, and it was very unsafe. So they had to take us with a gun, you know, walking on the back trails because the bears were out roaming around hungry I guess.14
John Pestrikoff described the scene after the earthquake and tidal wave as he remembered it:
All the debris was floating, you should see that, oil drums and boats and skiffs. Stuff people had washed away from their yards, you know. Some houses
one house I saw come by the graveyard. I wonder whose house is that. You could see more like that whats going on out there, you know, must have been Billy Andersons house, floated and drifted out. You know that stuff never come back to Afognak or anywhere here on these beaches. Where it ended up, you know where they ended? Barren Island. Barren Islands, thats where they ended up. All of that junk there, yeah, thats what Benny
that guy said. He took a picture of where they flew over it, all these stuff that washed away from Kodiak, Ouzinkie, Afognak, washed out there.15
So we went down but
water didnt reach our
there was a big log
right in front of the doorway there.
Tide brought it in. What shall we do? Wood for us, you know. Well, gonna saw it. Next time we went down there it was gone, it was way over the other place. Yeah, I should have tied it up there. God made me some wood and I didnt accept it.
Our freezer was under water, course we dried it up and made it work again, you know. Freddie and I, my boy, he went to school engineering and we also dried up the generator. We dried that out and made use of, start all over again, so we were lucky we didnt lose much. We didnt lose our boat and we didnt lose much groceries, not even flour. Flour escaped, the boys storing them, put it up in the attic, you know. Yeah, thats how our flour got saved. And our home was nice and dry. Thats how lotta people come down and have something hot, you know, to
to survive on, you know. What we had, we didnt have much and in the springtime, you know, we were kind of short of groceries and I go to grocery up Kadiak, Kadiak Fisheries at Port Bailey. I ran out of cash, you know, and my credit was good there all year around. Anytime I need groceries they told me to come up here, grocery up, that was pretty handy for me, you know. And therefore made a trip there and bought some groceries then we shared a hot water or whatever we had was there for families. They needed dry up. Well, some of them lost everything, clothes, food, no house
Some Afognak people were not in the village at the time of the disaster and had a tense period of waiting to get word on the safety of their families and homes. Some young people were away at boarding schools such at Mt. Edgecumbe in Sitka or Chemawa in Salem, Oregon. Others had moved from the village to Kodiak, Washington State, or other places but still considered Afognak their home and kept close contact with family members there.
Arlene (Garner) Nelson (born 1947) was away attending Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon when she received word that the earthquake and tidal wave had hit Alaska. There were rumors that Kodiak Island had sunk and didnt exist anymore. She had to endure three days of waiting before she got word that her family in Afognak was safe. She described her traumatic ordeal:
I was going to school in Chemawa, Oregon then. I went to school that year so I wasnt there for the earthquake. Thats a big part of my life I remember.
Actually it was sort of a sad part of my life there for a few days that Ill always remember because down in Oregon we (heard), Kodiak Island was sunk. So didnt have no more families. I had a brother then who was going
he was in Fort Gordon, Georgia. He was in the Army and for two days him and I were phoning each other. People off of Kodiak Island here really couldnt get out till it was through, otherwise through the Red Cross. My mom and them from Afognak were moved to Port Wakefield. So her, she and my uncle, Al Lukin, got a hold of us through the Red Cross and this was only three days after the earthquake. So during these other days we were let out of school and just sat in the living room by the TV and radio waiting for news from Alaska. And finally I was one of lucky students that got news from here through the Red Cross that my family was all okay. But for two days knowing that you had nobody was quite devastating.
Pat Juney Mullan (born November 28, 1946) was attending boarding school at Mt. Edgecumbe in Sitka when the earthquake and tidal wave struck. He also went through the agonizing wait to hear about the safety of his family in Afognak.
Boy, thats an emotional part of my life too. It was really scary, it was really scary cause Linda, and I, and Helen, and Thelma Malutin, Helen Wise, Helen Noya were there and the first report we heard of Afognak was that it was forty feet under water. You know, and we thought we were the sole survivors. It was two or three days before we heard from our parents that everybody was okay. In fact, last time I was in Kodiak mom got, Linda gave, my sister, my younger sister, gave me a letter, the letter we got from mom, the first one after the tidal wave and she told us what houses got swept away and things like that. But it was very, very scary time for us and then also for the kids in Chenega. There was a good friend of mine from Tatitlek village that lost several family members. So for us up in the coastal area up here it was a very, very scary time. A lot of crying, a lot of just fear, you know, like I said I wasnt the only one that thought I was the only one left. You know, it was real, it was sad
(then) Mom got a telegram down to us, I think like two or three days after the tidal wave.17
Barbara (Anderson) Willits (b. 1921) moved from her home in Afognak to Bellingham, Washington in 1949. She continued to think of Afognak as her home decades after leaving there as she had many friends and relatives still residing there.
Her brother Billy Andersons house was washed out to sea by the tsunami. It was the only house to go that direction as the others were washed inland. She described his ordeal as he had told her,
we were going up the mountain. So we all got whatever we could and we climbed the mountain and we waited for the tidal wave to come. It never did come but the earthquake did. It was a big one too. So we all went back home and then this last time it took my old house out all together. Billy didnt have a thing to his name, my brother, after that. Thats why I like the Salvation Army because they helped him, they got him going again, clothes, house, and furniture and stuff while the Red Cross they charge. Yeah, that was really something.18
Barbara Willits continued,
Well thats when Billys house, my brothers house, went out. They never found anything, they lost everything that time. But we were right on the, you know, water there, his house was
We wondered what happened to him. He happened to be on a boat and they rode it out and they went out in the boat with the, Dal Valley, he worked with him. They were okay I guess on the boat
It was hard, yeah, it took days to
I dont know who got in touch with us (but) they told us my brother was okay, he just lost everything.19
Lars Larsen (born March 23, 1923) left Afognak in 1937 to attend high school in Kodiak. He graduated in 1941 and planned to attend the University of Washington in Seattle but World War II changed his plans. On the advice of his brother he entered the Merchant Marine Academy and had a long and successful career in the shipping business. In 1964 when the Great Alaska Earthquake and Tsunami hit he was the marine superintendent of a large shipping company delivering ammonia by tanker throughout the world. Still feeling the connection to his home village he found the disaster news upsetting. Well, it was hard for me to visualize the destruction till I saw the pictures of it. The newspapers covered it well. The radio and television were transmitted in the areas that I lived so it was quiet devastating to me to think that the village I was born and raised in was destroyed, he said.
Marie (Lorenson) Painter (born August 6, 1918) moved to Seattle from Afognak in 1941 and felt the frustration of not knowing what had happened to Afognak during the 1964 disaster. She said:
on the radio came this announcement that this earthquake in Anchorage and Kodiak and, and the tidal wave came and took the, took Afognak away and Kodiak was, a big tidal wave knocked out Kodiak. Took the boats out. You know, I almost went crazy. My mother and father and my brother and my sister were up there. And you couldnt call, you couldnt, finally Chuck Turner with Kadiak Fisheries called and then they made contact with Kodiak through radio phones. And they announced how many people were hurt and of course we were friends with Chuck Turner
He was superintendent for Kadiak Fisheries for years. He called us and told us that our folks were okay, that they had a hours notice so they went up to the mountain at Kodiak. But my fathers boat was gone. A boat Kadiak Fisheries had called Freda, that gone, they never saw it again. And, Larsens, that wasnt Pinky Larsen but one of the Larsen boys, he had... his boat called, SOS, he was out in the water when he heard that the tidal wave was coming but that was the last that they heard of him, you know, the boats gone. And there werent, surprisingly, there werent many casualties. I dont remember how many there were but not even twenty I dont think that got caught in the wave. But my mother was
she wouldnt go to bed without her hearing aids on because she wanted make sure to hear everything after.20