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Coastal communities hit hard by tsunamis following ’64 quake

By Lauren Maxwell 10:45 PM March 27, 2014

Seward still at risk

SEWARD –

More than 130 people lost their lives in the 1964 earthquake, but what most people don’t know is that many of those deaths occurred in coastal communities from the tsunamis that followed.

More than a dozen people died in Seward from tsunamis and their aftermath. The big waves were generated by an underwater landslide in Resurrection Bay that sent 30-foot waves crashing to the shore just minutes after the quake.

Scientists say the second wave to hit the shoreline in Seward did the most damage. It ruptured fuel tanks along the water’s edge, which then caught on fire. Flaming waves carried burning petroleum and debris out into the bay and then back to the shore, setting everything they touched on fire.

Most of Seward’s shoreline has been rebuilt since the ’64 quake and tsunamis that followed. The fuels tanks have been pulled back from shore and the town has posted evacuation routes so that residents know what to do and where to go if a tsunami should strike again.

Fire Chief Eddie Athey says Seward is definitely a safer town than it was 50 years ago. Still, he worries what would happen on a busy summer day. The town’s population can triple with visitors, many of them camping by the waterfront.

“It will be wall to wall campers,” Athey said. “Many of which are unfamiliar with our community, our procedures and what, in fact, it means when the siren goes off.”

The siren noise is a familiar sound in Seward, where the emergency warning system is tested weekly. Still, it isn’t fail-safe, especially with the type of tsunamis Seward has experienced, which leaves little time to get away.

Experts say the best advice for people who live in coastal communities is not to wait for sirens, warnings or anything else. If you feel an earthquake that lasts more than 30 seconds and find difficult to stand, you need to head to higher ground immediately.

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