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'64 Quake: Ordinary people, a fateful day some survived, some didn't (Published 3/27/89)

Sheila Toomey
Gov. William Egan a few yards from his house in Valdez following the 1964 Earthquake.
Courtesy of Egan family
The 1964 earthquake heavily damaged much of Anchorage, Alaska. Harvey Chafitz photo
Harvey Chafitz
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
The Four Seasons Apartments in Anchorage, Alaska, was a six-story lift-slab reinforced concrete building which cracked to the ground during the Alaska earthquake on March 27, 1964. The building was under construction, but structurally completed, at the time of the earthquake. (U.S. Geological Survey/MCT)
Handout
A ground fracture in the Forest Acres area in Seward, Alaska, was caused by the Alaska earthquake on March 27, 1964. The fracture in the foreground measures about 2 feet wide. (U.S. Geological Survey/MCT)
Handout
The 1964 earthquake heavily damaged much of Anchorage, Alaska. Harvey Chafitz photo
Harvey Chafitz
Former home of Gov. Egan at left. Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Damage to houses from landslides that occurred in Turnagain Heights in Anchorage, Alaska, following an earthquake on March 27, 2964. (U.S. Geological Survey/MCT)
Handout
The 1964 earthquake heavily damaged much of Anchorage, Alaska. Harvey Chafitz photo
Harvey Chafitz
The 1964 earthquake heavily damaged much of Anchorage, Alaska. Harvey Chafitz photo
Harvey Chafitz
** FILE ** A mother stands watch as her child plays in a puddle of water near her earthquake-shattered home in Kodiak, Alaska in this March 1964 file photo. The water was left by tidal waves caused by the earthquake. Seven of the 10 largest earthquakes in the U.S. have occurred in Alaska and more earthquakes occur in Alaska each year than in any other U.S. state. (AP Photo/File)
Unknown
An aerial view show damage to Kodiak, Alaska, following the Alaska earthquake on March 27, 1964.. (U.S. Geological Survey/MCT)
Handout
A home in Turnagain Heights in Anchorage, Alaska, lies in ruins following a devastating earthquake in 1964. (U.S. Geological Survey/MCT)
Handout
The Four Seasons Apartment Building in Anchorage, Alaska, which was under construction on unconsolidated material, suffered heavy damage during the earthquake on March 27, 1964. There were no casualties; five workers left the top (fifth) floor 35 minutes before the earthquake. (U.S. Geological Survey/MCT)
Handout
The rails in this approach to a railroad bridge near the head of Turnagain Arm were torn from their ties and buckled laterally by streamward movement of the riverbanks during the Alaska earthquake on March 27, 1964. The bridge was also compressed and developed a hump from vertical buckling. (U.S. Geological Survey/MCT)
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A large coastal wave caused by the Alaska earthquake destroyed the waiting room of the Alaska Railroad depot in Whittier, Alaska, on March 27, 1964. (U.S. Geological Survey/MCT)
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The Anchorage municipal wharf area appears shortly after at low tide following the Alaska earthquake on March 27, 1964. The main dock was only slightly damaged, but the older Army dock (upper left) was ruined. Vibration and ground fractures damaged some structures in the port area, including the petroleum tank (lower right). (U.S. Army/MCT)
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A boulder estimated to weigh 1,700 pounds was thrown up 88 feet above the shoreline at Shoup Bay during the Alaska earthquake on March 27, 1964. (U.S. Geological Survey/MCT)
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A home in Turnagain Heights in Anchorage, Alaska, lies in ruins following a devastating earthquake in 1964. (U.S. Geological Survey/MCT)
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1964 Good Friday Earthquake Anchorage museum
Anchorage Museum
1964 Good Friday Earthquake Anchorage museum
Anchorage Museum
A building at Second Avenue and C Street collapsed during the 1964 Good Friday earthquake. Courtesy of the Anchorage Museum of History and Art
Army Corps of Engineers
Twisted rails and overturned tank cars attest to the force of the waves that inundated the Seward area after the Alaska earthquake on March 27,1964. (U.S. Geological Survey/MCT)
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Extensive fissures ripple through the sand dune on the Copper River Delta following the Alaska earthquake on March 27, 1964. (U.S. Geological Survey/MCT)
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Pilings of former homes in Chenega village at Chenega Cove in western Prince William Sound are all that remain from destruction caused by waves created by the Alaska earthquake on March 27, 1964. Only the school house on high ground was undamage. (U.S. Geological Survey/MCT)
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The control tower at Anchorage International Airport lies collapsed by the Alaska earthquake on March 27, 1964. (U.S. Geological Survey/MCT)
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Wreckage of the J.C. Penney Department Store at Fifth Avenue and D Street in Anchorage, Alaska, following the Alaska earthquake on March 27, 1964. The building failed after sustained seismic shaking. Most of the rubble has been cleared from the streets. (U.S. Geological Survey/MCT)
Handout
Tsunami damage along the waterfront at Kodiak, Alaska, following the Alaska earthquake on March 27, 1964. (U.S. Geological Survey/MCT)
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An earthquake-damaged building bows of L Street in Anchorage, Alaska, March 1964. (U.S. Geological Survey/MCT)
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Wreckage of Government Hill Elementary School in Anchorage, Alaska, as viewed from the playground, looking west, following the earthquake on March 27 1964. (U.S. Geological Survey/MCT)
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A section of the Million Dollar Bridge on the Copper River Highway in Alaska lies in the river following an earthquake on March 27, 1964. (U.S. Geological Survey/MCT)
Handout
The 1964 earthquake heavily damaged much of Anchorage, Alaska. Harvey Chafitz photo
Harvey Chafitz
The 1964 earthquake heavily damaged much of Anchorage, Alaska. Harvey Chafitz photo
Harvey Chafitz
The 1964 earthquake heavily damaged much of Anchorage, Alaska. Harvey Chafitz photo
Harvey Chafitz
The 1964 earthquake heavily damaged much of Anchorage, Alaska. Harvey Chafitz photo
Harvey Chafitz
The 1964 earthquake heavily damaged much of Anchorage, Alaska. Harvey Chafitz photo
Harvey Chafitz
The 1964 earthquake heavily damaged much of Anchorage, Alaska. Harvey Chafitz photo
Harvey Chafitz
Debris avalanche on the peninsula between Ugak and Kiliuda Bays in Alaska following a major earthquake on March 27, 1964. A slide of Tertiary rocks from the 1,500-foot-high peak at upper right flowed into the uninhabited valley below at about 300-foot altitude where it spread out as a debris lobe roughly 1,500 feet across. The narrow streak of light-colored debris in the lower right corner is part of the slide mass that overflowed the near flank of the landslide scar. (U.S. Geological Survey/MCT)
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** ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND DEC. 31, JAN. 1, ** In this 1964 photo provided the Seward, Alaska visitors center, the aftermath of an earthquake and tsunami that struck Seward, Alaska in 1964, is seen. Longtime residents of the nation's most seismically active state are familiar with the proper earthquake and tsunami protocol. (AP Photo/ Seward, Alaska visitors center) ** NO SALES **
AL GRILLO
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Former home of Gov. Egan at right. Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Former home of Gov. Egan at left. Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Former home of Gov. Egan at left. Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Dipping oil out of water in Valdez. Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times photographer Joe Rychetnik was sent to Valdez to cover the destruction in the port town, March 28-29, 1964
Joe Rychetnik
Anchorage Times / ADN archive 1964 Alaska Earthquake
Anchorage Times

This story was originally published on March 27, 1989, as part of a series on the 25th anniversary of the 1964 Good Friday earthquake.

Second of three parts

In Rogers Park and College Gate, out in Muldoon and downtown below the bluff, in Mountain View and Turnagain people got up that morning and thought it was just another day.

In a home at 8100 Peck, on the corner of Muldoon Road, Mary Louise Rustigan sipped coffee as her husband and oldest son dressed and left for work. Outside, the day dawned gray and raw.

TX: Springtime in Anchorage: 28 dank degrees cloaked by wet clouds and bad choices rain or snow or both. Mary Louise let her younger children, Rusty, 16, and Bonnie, 10, sleep. It was Good Friday, a school holiday.

On Westwood Drive in Turnagain, Bill Tobin turned the key in his white Buick and pulled out for the drive to work. At 36, he was the managing editor of The Anchorage Times, Alaska's largest newspaper. He was headed for the Times office, located where it is today at Fourth Avenue and H Street.

A child's white shirt in a small paper bag lay on the seat beside Tobin, part of a new Easter outfit his wife had purchased earlier in the week for one of the couple's three boys. The shirt had a flaw, and Tobin's assignment was to stop on his way home and exchange it.

At 2610 Northrup Place in Anchor Park, Blanche Clark relaxed. Housework called, but she wasn't due at her job until 2 p.m., so she had plenty of time. A seamstress by training, Blanche, 55, worked part time as a courier for Chroma Crystalike Photo Service, a lab that developed film for various stores around town.

Eighty miles east of Anchorage, twothirds of the way to Valdez, where the tides of Prince William Sound wash the foothills of the Chugach Mountains, the day also began like any other. Eighteen miles beneath the surface, two massive slabs of the earth's crust, two huge layers of twisted, moving rock, were stuck, locked together, one on top and one below, trying to slide past

each other in opposite directions.

Hundreds of square miles wide, these tectonic plates had been grinding against each other for decades, straining to break free, each pressed from behind by relentless forces, by power so mighty that once, long ago, it lifted the earth's surface thousands of feet into the air to create the mountains.

Still the plates held. Tense with compressing energy, the earth itself pushed harder, thrusting toward an inevitable day when the rocks must break free.

As Mary Louise Rustigan drank her coffee and Blanche Clark straightened up her house and Bill Tobin drove to work, the break was only hours away. On March 27, 1964, these three strangers found themselves on the same block in downtown Anchorage when the mountains moved. In the panic of the moment some lived and some died.

In 1964, Anchorage was half the size it is today about 100,000 people counting Eagle River and Girdwood. Just three tall buildings soared above the small town skyline the 1200 L Street Apartments, later called Inlet View, the McKinley Building on Fourth Avenue, later known as the McKay Building, and the just finished Westward Hotel at Third Avenue and E Street. Spenard was still considered out of town and Turnagain a newly developed waterfront suburb.

Walt Disney's "The Sword in the Stone" was playing at the Fourth Avenue Theatre, "Irma la Douce" at the Denali for adults only and way out in Muldoon, the Billiken Drive in offered a double feature: "Johnny Guitar" with Joan Crawford and "The Wac from Walla Walla."

In downtown Anchorage, Larry Gage's wife, Carolyn, dropped him off for work that morning at J.C. Penney. Less than a year old, Penney's was the newest, biggest department store in town, its five story building dominating the block at Fifth Avenue between D and E streets. The main entrance was on Fifth, in about the middle of the block, double glass doors flanked by display windows. A similar entrance was located around the corner on D Street.

The building had no windows. Instead, decorative concrete slabs four stories high layered with oversized brown and tan stuccoed rock, lined the Fifth Avenue and D Street facades.

When Penney's came to Anchorage in 1963, Gage Jewelers already was a well established family business, with its main store at Fourth and G. The company contracted with the Gages to run its fine jewelry department; Harold and Vee Gage put their 23 year old son, Larry, in charge.

Gage had 500 square feet in the middle of the main floor. Gold and jade glittered from modern white showcases topped with glass and lined with red plush. At night, the more valuable jewelry was locked up in a safe hidden away behind the men's shoe department at the rear of the store.

Atop a 5 foot center island, a mannequin wearing full bridal regalia towered over silver trays, crystal vases and fine china wedding gifts. Larry Gage showed up for work that Friday decked out as usual in a business suit, wingtip shoes, a nugget watch and a goldandonyx pinky ring. His was a class operation.

At 334 E. Second Ave., just off Cordova, Feodoria Kallander rose as usual at about 9 a.m., only vaguely aware of the television and a radio both playing somewhere in the cavernous two story log house. Obviously, some of her six children who still lived at home were already up.

Kallander worked nights as a cook at Peggy's Airport Cafe and spent part of each day preparing a dinner for her family to eat after she was gone. But first things first coffee to get going. Then a decision about supper. On such a gloomy day, a steaming pot of pea soup seemed like a good idea.

With Easter just two days away, Feodoria's younger children were soon clamoring at her to let them color eggs, but they quickly lost interest in the little cups of colored dye. In midafternoon, as Feodoria got ready for the 20 minute walk to Peggy's, her youngest son, Norman, a seventh grader at Central Junior High School, left to walk across town and visit his dad. His younger sister, Mary, went with him.

Norman, 13, and Mary, 11, went everywhere together, usually holding hands, close in age and close in affection. Mary was Norman's special responsibility. He was her big brother, and keeping her safe was his job. Feodoria had made that clear. If anything ever happened to Mary, Norman figured he might as well not bother to go home.

The children's father, Simon Sammis, a retired Alaska Railroad switchman, lived in a small cabin he had built himself near C Street and Sixth Avenue, behind the old Monkey Wharf bar. Norman was close to his dad and stopped by nearly every day. Today the visit had a special purpose. He wanted money to buy his mother an Easter card.

The children meandered across town, unworried by the mean drizzle. They had warm jackets and plenty of time. Norman's favorite store, J.C. Penney, located just a block from dad's cabin, was open until 6 p.m.

Blanche Clark was also impervious to Anchorage weather. She had certainly seen enough of it. A friendly, pleasant woman, Blanche had come to Alaska by steamer in 1945, while the war was still on, to join her husband, Owen, a plasterer and masonry worker. Her third and youngest child, Patricia, the only one born in Alaska, was a junior at East High School. Blanche's son was off training with the National Guard in California. Her oldest girl was at home, recuperating from an illness.

Clark found her film courier job relatively undemanding. Each afternoon she drove a Chevrolet Impala furnished by the company along a set route, picking up film from the military bases and stores in town and dropping it off to be developed at the Chroma Crystalike shop on Sixth Avenue. Later, she packaged and delivered the finished photographs.

On March 27, Clark was right on time as she left Elmendorf and turned the big Chevy toward town. She had one more stop to make, a 5:30 pick up and delivery to the photo counter at J.C. Penney.

In the green house at the corner of Peck and Muldoon, Mary Louise Rustigan, known to her friends as "Bobbie, " was trying to gavel her children to order.

Rusty and Bonnie were fighting. Rusty emerged late in the day from converted garage that served as bedroom and bunker for him and his 23yearold brother, Robert, and discovered Bonnie and a girlfriend playing on the living room floor with his Monopoly set. His Monopoly set!

Never mind that he rarely used the game himself, Rusty was outraged. How dare she? Everyone started shouting. Mary Louise, an easy going mom, soon had enough. "Quit picking on your sister, " she yelled at Rusty. "Bonnie, stay out of your brother's things."

At 44, Mary Louise was looking and feeling good. She had recently sold her cafe, Mary Lou's, on D Street, and now spent even more time than usual working with Alcoholics Anonymous.

The Rustigans came to Alaska from Providence, R.I., where Mary Louise's husband, Baxter, and his family had been in the grocery business since 1900. Baxter sold the family store in 1957 to answer the "call of the wild, " according to a frontpage farewell story in the Providence Journal. The truth was less romantic. The stylish, elegant Mary Louise was an alcoholic.

A dark, quiet man who rarely expressed his emotions, Baxter adored his fun loving wife and bet his future that a new life in a new land would help her quit drinking.

For a while, it looked like he was going to lose the bet. Baxter, a butcher by trade, worked long hours establishing City Cold Storage, a wild game butchery and meat locker located down a chilly flight of wooden steps in a basement at Fifth and Barrow. Meanwhile, Mary Louise drank and stopped and drank and stopped. Her drinking didn't keep her from opening and operating two restaurants in those years, but the family's home life was chaotic.

In 1961, she found Alcoholic Anonymous, climbed on the wagon and stayed there. She was enthusiastic about her sobriety and spent long nights drinking coffee and holding hands with others trying to quit. Now, three years later, on this drippy Friday afternoon, Mary Louise was restless and wanted out of the house. Baxter's 53rd birthday was still nine days away, but close enough to serve as an excuse for a therapeutic shopping trip.

Mary Louise put on her expensive mukluks and beaded sealskin parka she always liked making an impression. "Come on, " she said to Bonnie. " Let's go downtown and get a birthday present for dad."

A little after 5 p.m., Norman and Mary Kallander entered Penney's through the D Street door. Dad had come across with some extra 50cent pieces and now Norman was critically examining Easter greeting cards favoring those with a big "MOM" on front and sentimental words inside. "If it hits you in the heart, then you know you've got the good one, " was his philosophy.

Mary soon became bored and disappeared up the escalator, saying she wanted to look at shoes. Norman read on.

Bonnie and Mary Louise Rustigan came into Penney's through the Fifth Avenue entrance. After parking the car at City Cold Storage and visiting briefly with Baxter, mother and daughter walked the few blocks to the store.

Bonnie's mood matched the sky dark and foul. She did not want to be shopping. She wanted to be home playing more Monopoly with her friend. Filled with outrage, Bonnie produced a grand sulk and refused to speak.

Inside the store, Mary Louise stopped to look through a pile of net scarves, veiling her face with a pink one, clowning for her daughter, trying to coax a smile from the angry 10 year old. But Bonnie wasn't having any. While Mary Louise made a few purchases, Bonnie looked at key chains.

Outside, Blanche Clark eased into a parking space on Fifth Avenue. With just half an hour to closing, few customers remained in the store. Clark walked quickly to the camera counter, where she made her delivery, then headed back to the street.

At 5:31 p.m. Larry Gage should have been pulling trays of jewelry in preparation for locking them in the safe over night, but a last minute customer appeared and showed some interest in a woman's jade and nugget ring, an $80 sale if he decided to buy. Gage waited.

At 5:32 Norman Kallander made his choices. After much consideration, he picked three Easter cards, including an oversized MOM card with yellow flowers, dug 85 cents out of his pocket and joined the line at the cashier stand exact change in hand. Now where was Mary? "If I have to go running upstairs after her, " he grumbled, but just then his sister appeared at the foot of the escalator and took her accustomed place at his side.

At 5:33 Bill Tobin was finished for the day at The Anchorage Times and was in his Buick, headed up Fifth Avenue, then a two way street, to exchange his son's flawed Easter shirt.

At 5:34 Blanche Clark left Penney's, got into her car, which was parked along the curb on Fifth Avenue, and slowly pulled out into traffic, stopping at the corner of D Street for a red light.

At 5:35 Tobin called himself lucky as he pulled into an empty parking space almost directly in front of his destination, the Fifth Avenue entrance to J.C. Penney.

At 5:36, 80 miles to the east, the massing seismic energy reached a critical concentration and, in that moment, the locked slabs of planetary crust tore free, releasing a force so powerful it moved the sea in Antarctica. The subterranean thunder raced toward Anchorage, splitting and heaving the earth as it moved.

At 5:36 Norman Kallander reached the front of the cashier's line and handed his money and greeting cards to a blond woman in a sheath dress. The first jolt from the earthquake rocked him and Mary back on their heels hard. Norman kept his eyes on the cashier, fascinated by the look of horror on her face. The young woman dropped his cards and money and, without a word, without closing the cash drawer, bolted for the nearby D Street exit.

She was gone, racing through the doors into the street, before the people in line understood what was happening. As the second waves of energy reached the city Norman could see the woman through the glass, clinging to a car, the pavement roiling beneath her.

At 5:36 Larry Gage's customer said, "I'll take it, " and Gage picked up a ring box. As the first jolt hit, Gage instinctively reached up and grabbed the ankles of the mannequin bride to keep her from falling over on his glass showcases.

At 5:36 Bill Tobin muttered something rude as the car in the space behind rear ended him. He turned to berate a driver who wasn't there, then realized his car was rocking, as were the other cars he could see. Tobin searched his frame of reference for an explanation. Why, for instance, was that woman stumbling around in the middle of the street? The poor creature seemed to be ill. She was having trouble standing up.

Without thinking, Tobin jumped out of his car, leaving the engine running, and went to help her. On the way out, he accidentally pushed down the left turn signal with his arm.

Inside Penney's, the first jolt froze rather than frightened many people. A sharp twitch, they thought, a little shake, then it would all be over. These little quakes happened all the time. No big deal. For the first 15 seconds or so, the coming catastrophe could have been just another dish rattler.

But instead of fading, the shaking began to get worse. Sound roared through the streets as the full force of the earthquake hit. "Nuclear war, " thought Gage. The Cuban missile crisis was still vivid. "The Russians have bombed Elmendorf."

Penney's shuddered. The building bumped and jerked, one moment shaking from side to side, then rolling up and down. Shelves collapsed, displays crashed to the floor. Hangers rattled as clothing slipped quietly off. Perfume bottles shattered, mixing their expensive scents.

The fluorescent lights went out and emergency wall lights came on, creating a dreadful twilight. Floor joints screamed as the full fury of the unleashed planet tore walls apart. Mary Louise Rustigan was terrified. "Earthquake, " she yelled as she ran for her daughter.

It was difficult to move across the heaving floor without falling. Mary Louise finally reached Bonnie and, clinging together, the two started toward the exit.

Outside on Fifth Avenue, the big building was coming apart. The fourstory high decorative concrete slabs covering the north and east faces of the store began to pop loose of their fastenings. Thousands of pounds of death trembled above the sidewalk.

Inside, Bonnie and Mary Louise fell, thrown off their feet by a floor that seemed alive. By now Mary Louise was in a full panic. The building was going to collapse with her and Bonnie inside. They had to get out.

As Bonnie clung to her arm with both hands, Mary Louise half ran and half dragged her child through the door to Fifth Avenue. There she turned right, heading instinctively toward her husband's shop several blocks away.

In the middle of the street, only yards from the Rustigans, Bill Tobin now clung to the woman he had gone to help. The street was an asphalt ocean with rolling waves 5 feet high one moment lifting cars into the air above his head, the next lifting him and the woman.

Tobin had finally figured out what was happening. It was the end of the world. There was no escape. He did not notice the woman and child running along the sidewalk behind him toward D Street, searching desperately for a level passage through the bouncing line of parked cars.

At the traffic light on the corner of Fifth Avenue and D Street, Blanche Clark figured something must be wrong with her ignition to make the car bounce so. Then the street moved and a woman fell down, and got up, and fell again. Earthquake, Blanche concluded.

She tried to put the car in gear and drive away from danger, but tires aren't designed to grip undulating pavement. Gunning the motor and hammering on the horn, she looked to her right at the disintegrating department store. The wall nearest her was obviously going to fall. She turned off the ignition. Maybe the Impala would protect her.

Only yards away, Mary Louise and Bonnie lurched and stumbled toward D Street. They had to get off the sidewalk, away from the building, which already was throwing off small tiles and pieces of glass. Suddenly a rolling seismic wave flipped them both off their feet, into the gutter. In that moment, tons of concrete curtain shuddered free from the front of the building and slid toward the ground. One of the panels hit the sidewalk bottom first then tipped forward, smashing down on the roof of Clark's car, crumpling it nearly flat, raining debris on Bonnie and burying Mary Louise.

The great earthquake was only about a minute old. It had three minutes to go.

Back in the store, most of those who thought they would tough out the temblor now decided to get out of the building. They raced down the stalled escalators, customers and staff, running for the doors; they were past figuring the safety odds. They wanted out.

Everything not fastened down was rolling; most things fastened had broken free. The breaking and collapsing, the falling ceiling and groaning floor all but drowned the terrified screams.

Larry Gage, still holding the bride's ankles, noticed that the silver trays and crystal vases he was trying to protect had disappeared. With a shove, he pushed the mannequin over backward and dashed for the Fifth Avenue exit.

In the entryway, between the inner and outer sets of glass doors, a milling crowd of frightened people hesitated, uncertain what they should do. Larry Gage was at the front of the pack.

To his left, a young woman, bleeding from glass cuts, screamed to get out. Gage didn't know the building had already begun to collapse; but the street, with its leaping automobiles and falling pedestrians, looked dangerous.

Without exchanging a word, Gage and a stranger standing next to him linked arms and barred the exit, refusing to let the hysterical woman or anyone else through.

A moment later, another set of concrete panels, above the blocked doorway, crashed to the street, pulling huge sections of wall down, crushing Bill Tobin's Buick.

Gage turned away from the now blocked doorway, his face ashen. The heavy glass doors were still whole, but the display windows that ran along the sidewalk to the west were shattering. He and the rest of the crowd raced back into the store.

The Kallander children didn't understand they were supposed to be frightened until the grown ups around them started screaming. Then Norman decided it was time to leave. Keeping Mary in front of him where he could see her, he pushed her toward the D Street door, unaware that the entire D Street corner of the building was about to fail.

Just as they reached the exit, a big postcard stand toppled over, pinning Mary to the floor.

Panicked adults leaped over the children as Norman frantically tried to pull his sister free. The stand was too heavy for him to lift, but he finally dragged Mary out from under it, and the two of them raced through the door as the four upper stories walls, ceilings and floors crashed to the sidewalk behind them, dumping the building into the street.

The crash raised a dust storm that nearly blinded the children, filling their hair, clothes and mouths with tiny pieces of rock and plaster. Norman looked back at the avalanche, then he and Mary ran and ran and ran.

Four minutes.

The earthquake that set San Francisco on fire lasted one minute.

The great Alaska quake subsided slowly over the last 30 seconds or so. The ground still shook when Bonnie Rustigan opened her eyes.

She lay in the street, at the outer edge of a huge pile of debris. The hand that Mary Louise had been holding when they both fell was now hidden beneath bits of shattered concrete and sheetrock. Bonnie moved her arm under the wreckage, searching for her mother. Nothing.

Across the street, two women two enormous women, each with a collie on a leash shouted at the child to get up, get away from the building. "Come on, " they urged. "Come here." Bonnie scrambled to her feet and ran to them.

Surely the women had seen Mary Louise die, but all they said to the little girl was, "Don't worry dear, we'll help you find your mother."

In the crushed Impala, now skewed nearly crosswise in the street, Blanche Clark was still alive and still behind the wheel, pinioned to the driver's door by a 12foot slab of building facade, her neck and arm broken.

Inside the store, one of the managers urged those remaining, including Larry Gage, toward a small rear door, opening onto an alley and parking lot adjacent to Sixth Avenue.

Gage ran to safety, astonished to find he still had the ring box in his hand. He never saw the gold and jade ring again nor the rest of his expensive jewelry. It all disappeared that day and in the days to come. Friends told him later that they saw fleeing people pause at the foot of the escalator, where his showcases were, and grab a few baubles on the way out.

In the street, passersby snatched blue jeans that tumbled from exposed upper floors.

By 5:41, the earthquake was over. The thunder at the end of the world became a moment of eerie silence.

Then the survivors came alive. In the middle of Fifth Avenue, Bill Tobin looked at his flattened car and wondered why he had been allowed to escape. He looked at the wreck of Penney's and knew there were hundreds of dead and dying inside. A devout Catholic, Tobin turned and raced toward Holy Family Church to get a priest.

On Sixth Avenue, Norman Kallander let go of Mary long enough to help an elderly woman in a black coat, lying on her face in the street. What seemed like an army of firefighters and police tore past him toward the disaster zone. From their post at the Public Safety Building on Sixth and C they had seen Penney's collapse.

Behind the nearby Monkey Wharf, the children's father rode out the earthquake in his front yard. He, too, saw the building fall and knew his children were inside.

Back on Fifth Avenue, unable to move in her crushed car, Blanche Clark heard people walking past. "Oh, look at the car, " a little girl said. "I wonder if anyone's in it."

"I'm in it, " she cried. "I'm in it."

Across the street, in front of the Club Paris, the dog women handed Bonnie over to a uniformed policewoman. "Where's your mother?" the policewoman asked. "Under there, " Bonnie said, pointing to Mary Louise Rustigan's burial mound. The policewoman apparently didn't believe her and said she would check the bar.

The officer soon returned. Puzzled about what to do with the stranded 10yearold as more urgent duties called, she gave Bonnie to two clerks in the Rexall drugstore, telling them to put her where she could be seen in case someone who knew her passed by. The clerks moved a display of plasticcovered blankets and miraculously unbroken cologne bottles, wrapped a yellow blanket around the shivering child and set her in the front window, where she stayed until she spotted her father in the crowd outside, searching for his family.

As darkness fell, the city settled in for a long, hard night. With no electricity, the night fell black around the wreck of Penney's, dark and quiet, except for the blink, blink, blink of Bill Tobin's left turn signal.

Epilogue

Two people died at Penney's that day, but Blanche Clark was not one of them.

At her home outside Eureka, Calif., Clark, now 80 years old, was amused to learn that many people in Anchorage believe she was crushed to death in her car. Looking at photographs of the scene, of her squashed Chevy, it's easy to understand why.

Rescuers working feverishly took more than an hour to free her. "A bunch of us got around and tried to lift the slab, " said Fred Kings, who ran into Penney's during the quake to rescue his wife and children. "But it was too heavy."

A tow truck pressed into action had no better luck against the weight of the concrete. Finally, by jacking up the slab a few inches at a time and piling rocks to keep it up, they were able to cut Clark out.

It had begun to snow when they loaded her into an ambulance and took her to Providence Hospital, where she spent five weeks in traction before being released. It took time, but she recovered.

Blanche and her husband, Owen, left Alaska in 1977. They are retired and have "a house and a bit of land, " eight grandchildren and two greatgrandchildren. Asked to describe her life today, Blanche, ever good humored, replied: "It's a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll."

In addition to Mary Louise Rustigan, an 18yearold East High School student named Lee Styer died in the collapse of J.C. Penney. He, too, was killed by falling concrete on the Fifth Avenue side of the building.

Twentyfive years after his death, Styer remains a shadow figure. Few classmates remember him, the East High newspaper gave him a single passing reference in its story about the earthquake and the yearbook has no blackbordered page dedicated to his memory. His family refuses to talk about him.

Lee was apparently an only child and his parents took his death badly. His father, who died in 1986, had to be hospitalized and the couple divorced in 1965.

The Styers and Rustigans sued J.C. Penney, alleging that the decorative concrete panels were improperly fastened and the building defective. Penney's countered with an "act of God" defense.

In 1969, Penney's offered the families $6,000 each in an out of court settlement. Both accepted. In court papers, a bitter Baxter Rustigan noted that he got a bill from the store for Mary Louise's purchases on March 27.

Larry Gage got out of Penney's unhurt, but for a week, as aftershocks rocked the city, he refused to get undressed before going to bed at night. For weeks after that, according to his wife, Carolyn, he would leave his clothes in a line between the bedroom and the door, in case he had to get up and get out fast. His family remained in the jewelry business until recently. Larry still lives in Anchorage and is the owner of ParT Golf.

Norman Kallander lost his Easter cards and his money, but saved his sister. Later that evening, when he and Mary arrived back at the log house on Second Avenue, Feodoria's kitchen was sticky and green with spilled pea soup. Norman spent the next few days in shock, wrapped in quilts and pillows on a sofabed downstairs, frightened at the aftershocks and shrill radio warnings of tidal waves but unable to respond.

He, too, recovered. Norman still lives in Anchorage and still sends greeting cards on the slightest pretext. He works for Cook Inlet Housing Authority.

Bill Tobin, now editor in chief of The Anchorage Times, lost his car but his impulse to help the falling woman saved his life. His family and their Turnagain home also survived.

Mary Louise Rustigan's sons rode out the earthquake at home in Muldoon, more thrilled than scared and unaware of the tragedy closing in on their family downtown. When it was over, the boys, like hundreds of other Anchorage residents, hopped in a car and cruised the city to see the sights. Like Mary Louise, they parked their car at Baxter Rustigan's business and walked up Fifth Avenue, where they met their father, carrying a bloodied Bonnie in his arms.

"We're OK, " Baxter told his boys, "but we don't know where your mom is."

The boys continued up Fifth Avenue, alarmed for the first time, searching the crowd now gathered around Penney's for Mary Louise and her distinctive parka.

"We get up to Penney's, " Robert Rustigan recalled recently. "I'm looking around the crowd for my mom and I didn't see her anywhere. . . . Someone said, "Why don't you go ask the cop, ' in front of the Club Paris. . . . The cop said, "We do have someone here fitting that description, but I don't think you should look.'

"I said, "I have to.' "

Robert recognized his mother's mukluks immediately.

Bonnie Rustigan suffered minor abrasions and a bloody wound that punctured her leg to the bone. But she got well and now lives with her husband and children in Arizona. Robert lives in Florida. Only Rusty still lives in Anchorage.

Baxter Rustigan died of lung cancer in 1970. He was an undemonstrative man his children remember no great outpouring of emotion in the days following Mary Louise's death. But someone else does.

About a week after the earthquake, Feodoria and Norman Kallander went to City Cold Storage, descending the wooden staircase into the chill basement with its sawdust and smell of old blood. The Kallanders had long stored their fish and moose in Baxter Rustigan's lockers.

Conversation soon turned to the earthquake and Baxter mentioned that his wife had been killed at Penney's. Feodoria pointed to Norman. He, too, was at Penney's, she said.

Rustigan exploded. "How did you get out, " he shouted at the boy, as the Kallanders backed away, shocked. "My wife died, " he cried. "How did you live?" Twentyfive years later, Norman still remembers the tall griefstricken man with the dark, angry face.

Anchorage Daily News librarians Sharon Palmisano and Rachel Wozniak contributed research to this story.


By Sheila Toomey
Anchorage Daily News