Reading the North

Bad Friday: The Great and Terrible 1964 Alaska Earthquake

Lew Freedman (Epicenter Press, $15.95)

The blurb: Fifty years later, still-vivid memories are relived in a new book about the 1964 Alaska Earthquake. When a strong earthquake rumbles across the state today, many Alaskans who lived through the most powerful one ever recorded in North America still become tense as they count the seconds, wondering, How long will it last? None who were in Southcentral Alaska on Good Friday nearly 50 years ago will ever forget the destructive force that in some places shook the ground for five and a half minutes.

In "Bad Friday," survivors share their personal stories -- the Seward family that rode out a tsunami on the roof of a house torn off its foundations and carried away ... widespread early fears that the Russians had dropped an atomic bomb ... the fright of stunned shoppers in a furniture store where chandeliers hanging by chains swung back and forth so violently they crashed into the ceiling and shattered ... the Anchorage homes carried away in a massive landslide ... and the 441-foot cargo ship in Valdez that was tossed thirty feet into the air and knocked over on its side on dry land before powerful forces righted it again back in the bay.

Excerpt: Much of the fire department's role in Anchorage consisted of rescues and emergency transporting of people hit by debris. Anchorage was spared the type of major fires that often follow earthquakes when natural gas lines explode.

The lack of fires was a blessing because the city's primary water supply and mains had been shut down by the earthquake. A 6:10 p.m. log-in reported, "There was a complete water failure in the downtown area and all fire hydrants were out of service. The only immediately available water was in the booster tanks of our engine companies and the 1,100 gallons of water in Tank 1."

By 6 p.m., the fire department was on its way to Turnagain after ascertaining that Government Hill Grade School "had fallen over the bluff and been destroyed." A Turnagain resident, Del Ingram, thought the quake was going to be like many others he and his family experienced, a sharp jolt maybe, but ending quickly. This one didn't end quite so fast.

"The garage fell off first," Ingram said. "We tried to get out the back, but nothing was there. We ran out the front. Each step we made was dropping down under us. We just kept going. There was no telling where it would stop."

The Ingram home was thrown about two hundred yards down the bluff above Cook Inlet.

Even before fires were doused in the smaller southcentral Alaska communities of Seward and Valdez, the Anchorage City Council met in emergency session on Monday, three days after the quake, to pass ten resolutions requesting financial aid from the federal government in order to cope with the catastrophe. The requests were aimed at obtaining financial aid to fix infrastructure like streets, sewers, water systems, telephone wires and oil storage tanks.

Governor Egan set up an emergency headquarters in Anchorage; he met with his cabinet and fielded offers of help from generous contributors around the country.

The governor asked that donations to be sent to his attention at his Civil Defense headquarters, a trailer office, at Fifth Avenue and Juneau Street, where he relocated for meetings with military, law enforcement and elected officials. Alaskans were going to have to depend on the largesse of the federal government for help in repairing the massive damage.

Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point

Edited by Subhankar Banerjee (Seven Stories Press, $23.95)

The blurb: Thirty-nine voices -- well known writers, environmentalists, indigenous leaders, activists, natural scientists -- teach us how and why the future of life on Earth is tied to what happens in Arctic Alaska.

The book contains two full-color sections of photographs and drawings, together with some 75 black-and-white photographs.

"After you have read "Arctic Voices," writes Banerjee, "you will begin to think and talk about the Arctic differently than before, and perhaps you'll find an answer to the question, 'Why should I care about the Arctic?' "

Excerpt: To the Gwich'in, the caribou calving ground in the coastal Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is known as Izhik Gwats'an Gwandaii Good lit -- roughly, "the sacred place where life begins" -- the life, that is, of caribou, which is not understood as something apart from the life of Gwich'in, the People. According to their own traditions, these indigenous Indians have hunted caribou in the northern forests for perhaps ten thousand years: the myth, culture, economy, and future of the fifteen Gwich'in villages depend on this big deer as the Plains tribes once depended on the bison and the Pacific Northwest tribes on the salmon. In their creation story, told to me by Elder Reverend Trimble Gilbert, caribou holds a piece of Man's heart in its heart, and Man a piece of Caribou, so that each will know what the other one is up to.

How truly sad it seems to me, after 50 years as an environmentalist, that so many years of progress in conservation and sustainable energies, together with the world's great hopes for control of carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels that might defer the coming cataclysm of global warming, are being blocked, stalled, derailed, and turned back toward the past by the oil and automotive industries and their team in Washington. Indeed, I am outraged that the last pristine places on our looted earth are being sullied without mercy, vision or good sense by greedy people who are robbing their fellow citizens of the last natural bounty and profusion that Americans once took for granted. Many years will be lost trying to undo some of the recent reckless damage to clean air and water, old-growth forest, biodiversity and many other crucial aspects of our environment that is being perpetrated for the profit of a few by our government.

"If we fail to save the land, God may forgive us," as a Togiak elder has said, "but our children won't."

Compiled by Kathleen Macknicki, Anchorage Daily News.