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Anchorage, Alaska, in the aftermath of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake.
Anchorage, Alaska, in the aftermath of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake.Bill Ray—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Anchorage, Alaska, in the aftermath of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake.
The earthquake split the Turnagain section of Anchorage with a criss-cross of deep fissures in the ground, heaving the smashed homes up at crazy angles.
Aftermath of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.
Aftermath of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.
Aftermath of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.
Alaskans pray after the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake.
Ben Henry, 10, sits on bowling-game table in Anchorage American Legion Hall as his sister Genevieve sleeps by pins. Everything in their house was destroyed.
People receiving medical treatment after the March 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.
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After the March 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.
Unloading relief supplies after the March 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.
After the March 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.
After the March 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.
After the March 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.
After the March 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.
After the March 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.
After the March 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.
After the March 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.
In downtown Anchorage, the buildings and the pavement dropped 20 feet, dividing Fourth Avenue into two levels and leaving a weird jumble of signs.
LIFE Magazine—April 10, 1964
Anchorage, Alaska, in the aftermath of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake.
Bill Ray—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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The Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964: Rare Photos From an Epic Disaster

Mar 26, 2014

When the Great Alaska Earthquake convulsed the south-central region of that vast state on March 27, 1964, the energy released by the upheaval -- the largest quake in recorded North American history -- was, LIFE magazine reported, "400 times the total [energy] of all nuclear bombs ever exploded" until that time. The megathrust event unleashed a colossal 200,000 megatons of energy, destroying buildings and infrastructure in Anchorage and far beyond; raising the land as much as 30 feet in some places; and sparking a major underwater landslide in Prince William Sound, which killed scores of people when the resulting waves slammed into Port Valdez.

When all was said and done, the 9.2-magnitude quake -- which struck around 5:30 in the evening on Good Friday -- and its many powerful aftershocks caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage; killed more than 130 people (including more than a dozen tsunami-related deaths in Oregon and California) and; in ways literal and figurative, forever altered the Alaskan landscape in places like Anchorage, Seward and Valdez.

Here, on the 50th anniversary of the epic natural disaster, LIFE.com presents photos -- many of them never published in LIFE -- from the cataclysm's aftermath.

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.

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