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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Kodiak's Tsunami

Japan's recent earthquake and disastrous tsunami got me to thinking about the earthquake and tsunami that rocked Kodiak 47 years ago. I found these images in the Alutiiq Museum photo archives - they were all taken by Nick Nekeferoff. The Good Friday Earthquake in 1964 was about the same size as the one in Japan (around a 9.2) and like in Japan it was the series of tsunamis following the quake that did most of the damage.

When I was looking through Nick's photos I was surprised how close the roads were to the water. And I suddenly remembered that during the earthquake the city of Kodiak also subsided approximately 6 feet into the sea - Hence, the higher sea level. If you look closely at the third (Old powerhouse after the quake) and fourth (old powerhouse prior to the earthquake) you can see the change in sea level quite dramatically. Prior to the earthquake the bottom of the snow line illustrates your typical high tide. Afterwards the high tide is quite a bit higher! It's kind of cool to think that that building on the left is now one of our favorite Kodiak restaurants.

The top photo is of Potato Patch Lake (taken from where Marion Owen used to have her garden) and one of those buildings floating in it is the old Beachcombers Bar. I gather the beach at Shahafka Cove was covered with bottles of booze and there was quite the party on the beach afterwards. They replaced the old beachcombers floating in the lake with the hull of a boat. The beachcombers was still a bar when I first came to Kodiak in the mid 1980s but closed shortly there after.

The second photo shows the Old Donnely Building where the USFWS Visitors center stands today. At the time it was a post office, but when I first moved to Kodiak it was the KANA building. Today the waterfront here is dominated by the ferry landing and canneries.

Looking through all these old photos and hearing about what's happened in Japan has me wondering what would happen if Kodiak got struck by another series of tsunamis. The scary thing is that I don't think we are prepared for another tsunami. I've heard people say that Kodiak only has a big quake every 400 years or so and that we don't need to worry about another tsanami. And while it is true Kodiak will probably not get hit by another 9.0 for a long time - we do have to worry about tsunamis and large earthquakes on the order of an 8.0. Three Saints Bay the first Russian settlement on Kodiak was wiped out by an earthquake on the scale of an 8.0 and tsunamis don't even have to be generated by a local earthquake. So you bet we should worry. This could happen again.

And if it did happen again, my biggest concern would be all the canneries. I think they would all get demolished just like the ones in Japan did. And while we don't have any nuclear power plants to worry about - I do wonder how hazardous all the cannery refrigerants are. Should we be worried about an ammonia cloud over Kodiak? How about a chlorine and bleach mustard gas cloud? Doomsday scenarios for sure, but I just hope the canneries and the City of Kodiak have considered the possibility of another tsunami. Patrick

1 comment:

Aubrey Morrison said...

Those photos are incredible!! Unbelievable. It would be really cool if you did some "now" photos of those same areas. I've never actually seen pictures of the tsunami damage in Kodiak. I've just heard lots of stories. Do you know Jimmer McDonald? He was our captain in the Aleutians last summer. Anyway, he has a crazy story of riding out the tsunami in a row boat with a dog when he was only 10 years old.