At 5:36 p.m. on March 27, 1964, a magnitude 9.2. earthquake – the second most powerful in world history – struck the young state of Alaska. The violent shaking, followed by massive tsunamis, devastated the southern half of the state and killed more than 130 people.  A day later, George Plafker, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, arrived to investigate.  His fascinating scientific detective work in the months that followed helped confirm the then-controversial theory of plate tectonics.

In a compelling tale about the almost unimaginable brute force of nature, Henry Fountain combines history and science to bring the quake and its aftermath to life in vivid detail.  With deep reporting from Alaska, often in the company of George Plafker, Fountain shows how the earthquake left its mark on the land and its people – and on science.

Great Quake interviews 

The quake at Chenega:
Kris Madsen's account

I talked with Kristine Van Winkle at her home in Northern California about the day the quake struck the native village of Chenega, where she taught in a one-room schoolhouse.

George Plafker on
measuring land changes

George Plafker, the former U.S. Geological Survey geologist who determined the mechanism of the earthquake, shows how barnacles helped him measure the uplift and subsidence of the land throughout the quake region.

The quake at Valdez:
Gloria Day's account

I interviewed Gloria Day at her home in Valdez, 51 years after the earthquake. With her husband Walter, she edited and published the town newspaper, the Valdez News. Gloria described her and her family's experiences that day.


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© 2017 by Henry Fountain