TIME Natural Disasters

The Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964: Rare Photos From an Epic Disaster

On the 50th anniversary of the largest quake in North American history, LIFE.com presents photos -- many of them never published in LIFE magazine -- from the disaster's aftermath.

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.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com


Dear TIME Readers,

As a regular visitor to TIME.com, we are sure you enjoy all the great journalism created by our editors and reporters. Great journalism has great value, and it costs money to make it. One of the main ways we cover our costs is through advertising.

The use of software that blocks ads limits our ability to provide you with the journalism you enjoy. Consider turning your Ad Blocker off so that we can continue to provide the world class journalism you have become accustomed to.

The TIME Team