'64 tsunami survivor recalls damage to Kodiak
Alaska’s oldest structure, the Baranov Museum constructed in Kodiak in 1808, narrowly survived the 1964 earthquake. A stone in the front corner of the lawn shows the high-water mark from the tsunami that followed.
Now the building house one of the state’s best collections of photographs that documented the aftermath.
"These are some of the boats that ended up on the waterfront,” said 83-year-old Alice Ryser as she flipped through photo albums.
Ryser was the museum’s archivist for 30 years. She spent a lot of that time tracking down and compiling pictures from the Good Friday earthquake.
One album highlights Guy Powell’s pictures of the same places around town before and after the tsunami.
"This picture here was what it looked like in front of this building looking toward Near Island,” Ryser explained. "This is the after picture when everything was gone out of the channel.”
When she was 28 years old, Ryser and her family moved from Cordova to Kodiak just one year before the 9.2 earthquake rocked the community. She was helping her pastor at church when it hit.
"The lady that lived next door was in the road, down on her knees crying. It was an experience no one had ever gone through before,” Ryser said.
With no real warning system no one knew what to do. Ryder said police drove around with megaphones telling them to get to higher ground.
“I got some clothes, coats for my kids and we headed up to the high school,” she said.
Ryser said advances in technology have made it easier to get information, so people knew how to respond to Tuesday's 7.9 earthquake and tsunami southeast of Kodiak.
Just minutes after the quake, the city sounded tsunami warning sirens that alerted the town. Hundreds of people in low-lying areas went to higher ground at the Kodiak High School, or to parking lots at Walmart and Safeway.
"It was a good drill for me yesterday, because people will know now where to go, how fast to get there and what to take,” Ryser said.
The 1964 pictures are a reminder of the devastation the community faced 54 years ago. Ryser said the town is lucky this latest tsunami warning didn’t end up the same way -- but her message is the same now as it was then.
"Just go," Ryser said. "Ask questions later, just get to high ground.”
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