The account of March 27, 1964 Earthquake as experienced by Karl “Hap” Wurlitzer, owner of Hatcher Pass Lodge. Told to Deborah Snyder in the mid 90’s.
It was the last day of camp at Camp Denali (Ft. Richardson) serving his time in the National Guard. The marching band was playing in formation the earth began to shake. Thinking at first he was becoming ill, he realized it to be an earthquake when the ground began heaving like a blanket in the wind. Birch trees were whipping so violently that the tops touched the ground, and cars were rolling back and forth every ten feet. Personally, he was disappointed because he was only minutes away from civilian life. Now he was under federal orders to remain on duty because the emergency.
The men were dismissed for the day to check their homes but were to return the next day for active duty. As he drove into the city of Anchorage, he could see the McKay building. It was stilll standing only because of the steel beams built into the structure. It has since then been boarded up becasue of the structural damage it had received. In the basement of the McKay building his friend had an office. When the building started shaking, his friend ran out to the street and ran for two miles because of his fear of being trapped under falling debris. The Chevy showroom had collapsed only leaving the cement supports showing, and the face of the J.C. Penney building had fallen.
Upon arrival at his home, a bachelors’ abode of eight men, the insides were in a shambles. As a point of interest, this is the same house the late U.S. Senator Ted Stevens lived in years prior. The appliances were topsy-turvy, as if someone had taken the house and had shaken it. the girlfriend of his friend, Jack Bruce, was sitting on the couch crying because Jack was at the Alyeska Ski Resort when the earthquake hit. There were reports of avalanches. They were later informed that he was safe, but bridges needed to be repaired to reach the resort. At this time, Mr. Bruce was an art teacher at the high school in Anchorage.
The following day, Hap was patrolling the Turnigan Heights area to ensure against looting of property and to maintain a presence. After a few days, he and others were replaced by a volunteer crew. As follow-up work, Hap found himself doing assessing damaged buildings and seismic evaluations.
At this time, he was selling jacuzzi whirlpools and was self-employed in a car dealership. With the government grants given to people and the insuance money received by the residents of Anchorage, his jacuzzi sales went up.
Hap related that Dr. Perry Meade, an acquaintance, lost his two children during the quake. They had fallen into a crevice and were never found. Another friend, Bob Atwood, lost his home. The quake’s affect on peoples’ lives affected Hap personally. He now stops and thinks each time the earth trembles, “Is this another such quake of ’64?”
Reflecting on the happenings of that day, Hap said the timing is an important factor of consideration. The time of day and year limited the damage and individual danger (but there is no dimishing the pain of that day in lives). Early morning would have found people in their beds. Winter temperatures would have increased the risks of the lives involved. This fact can only cause us to conclude that there is One who has our times in His hands.