1964 Homer News coverage told quake tales

In a normal news week in 1964, the announcement that the city of Homer’s incorporation vote had been certified would have been huge news. Something happened to shove that story of Homer’s birthday to the lower corner.

That something, of course, was the March 27, 1964, Great Alaska Earthquake. “Quake hits Homer!!” a headline blared. For a fishing town, the story lead with the most important news, the destruction of the small boat harbor and the subsidence of the Spit. None of the stories have author’s names, but presumably were written by editor and publisher H.A. Thorn. The story said:

“According to one eyewitness report, a large whirlpool appeared just off the entrance to the small boat harbor as if a huge bathtub plug had been pulled. The majority of the boats in the small boat harbor were pulled out into the bay by the tidal action.”

The front page story detailed other events: extensive damage to the newly built Porpoise Room on the Spit, salt water damage to Land’s End and high tides cutting off the Spit. One bright spot was that the dock was still usable and could serve the entire Kenai Peninsula. Local authorities ordered an evacuation of low-lying areas. “The new city council, although unofficial as yet, took the lead in emergency measures,” the article said. 

The newly elected council held its first official meeting on March 31 and was sworn in by deputy magistrate Madeline Waterman. Ralph Cowles was elected mayor.

With long distance phone service cut off, “The Department of Fish and Game had the only existing radio link with Anchorage and vicinity for some time,” the Homer News reported. That would have been commercial fisheries area biologist Jim Rearden.

The story also detailed damage to area businesses:

• Kachemak Food Cache: “All glass items on the shelves were destroyed.”

• Peter J’s Ski Shop: “Had fun matching rights and lefts of various sizes (of shoes).”

• Sterling Café: “The only dishes left were the ones dirty in the sink. The biggest mess was the syrup, powdered egg white, grease and water all on the kitchen floor.”

• Vern Mutch Drug: “An estimated damage of $2,500 to the building and $10,000 to stock the store.”

• Bayside Lounge: “The piano fell over and crushed a guitar, but the piano was undamaged.”

• Sam’s Liquor Store: “Liquor was running out the front door while Val waded ankle deep in the pungent liquid.”

• Inlet Inn and Hotel: “A total loss as far as coffee shop and hotel.”

The Homer Volunteer Fire Department snapped into action, one article said. 

“From the time the earthquake hit, the Fire Department had the rescue unit ready to go with extra blankets, extra coats and all first aid gear. The firemen had been alerted and a crew stood by at the Fire Hall for part of the time. During and after the quake there were no fires or rescue calls of any kind.”

To prevent any fires, the Anchorage Civil Defense office issued a warning: because of fuel and oil spills, there was to be no smoking near Cook Inlet. 

“Civil defense officials said it is ‘imperative that any areas near Cook Inlet be carefully guarded against any possible source of fire.’ The condition is likely to exist for three or four days, officials said, and the warning is in effect until further notice.”

The issue also had anecdotes from Homer and Ninilchik of survivors’ experiences with the quake, reprinted in the box to the right.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

From Ninilchik:

“Mrs. Ernie Matson reported that she stepped out on a porch and was thrown halfway down her driveway. Her husband was busy running from stove to stove to keep the chimneys together.”

“The Larry Matsons had one big jumbled mess in their basement where oars, nets, motors and other fishing gear went flying around with other stored objects.”

From Homer and Seldovia:

“While the earthquake was going on Harry Vick had to hold his refrigerator to keep it from falling over and says he opened the back door at least 20 times to let the dog out and then back in again.”

“Frank Miller reports that Susu Bowers actually got drunk on the fumes from cleaning up the spilled liquor at the Bayside Lounge.”

“Mr. Strickland reports that the worst thing he could see happening during the earthquake was his poor old goose who couldn’t stand up.”

“One of the Thorns’ Siamese cats hid out in the house and couldn’t be found for two days.”

“Most Seldovia residents spent Friday night in the school, reports Bud Danby. He also reports that the water just barely went over the boardwalk.”

“Barbara Child was standing on an outside window ledge when the quake hit and she did a Humpty Dumpty into the snow.”

“Unc was knocked to the floor in the Club Bar and couldn’t get up, so he crawled out the door and out into the open.”

One local woman resident was reigning in the throne room at the time of the earthquake. The effect was the same as sitting in the bathtub.”

And at the Homer News offices on Pioneer Avenue in what’s now Café Cups, heroic efforts saved the day and kept the news coming.

“Editor Thorn made a grab for the mimeograph machine which came down on top of him. Thorn cushioned the fall making this week’s issue possible. Meanwhile Girl Friday Sandy Allen saved the News building by holding the center support firmly to keep it from falling over.”