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VIDEO: The Great Alaska Earthquake

1964 Quake

Yereth Rosen

The Great Alaska Earthquake was the most powerful on record in North America, but the superlatives go beyond that. The 1964 earthquake changed the understanding of geology, spawned numerous programs to track quakes and warn citizens of tsunami dangers and greatly enhanced the public’s awareness of emergency preparedness.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary, the U.S. Geological Survey, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other organizations have gathered archival information to share with the public. A new USGS video compiles some rarely seen historical footage with scientific retrospectives and explanations that remain relevant half a century after the Magnitude 9.2 shaker struck.

"This is an incredible story. We've got great old film footage, revolutionary science and some remarkable geologists who've really made a difference," USGS video producer Stephen M. Wessells said in a statement. "It's been exciting to learn how two generations of scientists have sorted out the details and clarified the threats."

Government agencies, community groups, museums and other organizations are also planning a series of anniversary events. President Barack Obama has declared March 23-29 Tsunami Preparedness Week. Several government agencies, including The Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, have organized a special “Great Alaska ShakeOut” drill to be held 1:36 p.m. on March 27, 2014. The annual international drill, in which Alaska traditionally participates, is scheduled for Oct. 16, 2014.

Alaska’s is not the only earthquake anniversary that will be observed in 2014. This December will mark the 10th anniversary of the deadliest tsunami in history, the Indian Ocean catastrophe that killed nearly 228,000 people, according to the latest estimates. Those giant waves were triggered by an earthquake of Magnitude 9.1 or 9.2 (estimates vary) that, like the Alaska quake, occurred when one tectonic plate slipped beneath another.

Update: An earlier version of this story put the death toll of the Indian Ocean quake at more than 150,000 and the magnitude at 9. Estimates for these figures vary depending on the source; this story has been updated with figures from the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program and the USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center.