It’s Tsunami Preparedness Week in Alaska this week. Wednesday, Mar. 29 a tsunami warning test message will broadcast over radios and TVs in at-risk communities across the state. The drill takes place once a year, and one village in Southeast has not forgotten the importance of being ready when disaster strikes.
Marvin Kadake remembers Mar. 27, 1964 like it was yesterday.
“I tell you, it was something. When you looked up at town here, you could see all the light poles shaking, just like they were rubber,” Kadake explained.
A 9.2 magnitude earthquake shook the state that day. Kadake was in Kake, a small coastal village about 40 miles east of Sitka.
“It was a flat, calm day like today and you could actually see the tide going out,” Kadake said.
A video produced by the Southern California Earthquake Center provides direction on how to survive an earthquake and tsunami. An animated beach scene starts to shake and text on the screen says to drop, cover, and hold on.
Marvin Kadake was in his car when the ‘64 earthquake hit.
“We couldn’t even get out of the vehicle it was shaking so much,” explained Kadake. “And the people out on the dock were just holding onto the railings.”
If you’re at or near sea-level when an earthquake hits, there’s risk a tsunami will follow. That’s because the tectonic plates that shifted and caused the quake are probably below the ocean floor. So, that shift pushes a wall of water up, causing a tidal wave.
The video says to get to higher ground or go farther inland. But that’s not what happened in Kake in 1964.
“As the tide is receding, some of the young guys were just hollering and screaming and running– following the tide going out,” Kadake explained.
That was an eye-opening experience for him, Kadake said.
“They survived, but they’ll never do it again. It was just some experience– to go through those motions.”
The 1964 earthquake, which devastated much of Southcentral, was also a wake up call for Kake.
Some of those light poles Kadake said were shaking like rubber– they toppled over and a section of the road crumbled away.
Kadake has been with the volunteer fire department for more than 60 years. The department now has a plan in place to make sure everyone is accounted for. He says the first time they did a headcount drill at the school it didn’t exactly go so well.
“And nobody knew about it– the teachers– nobody knew who we hid away,” Kadake explained. “They had a head count, and you know what? They didn’t even know who was missing.”
The National Weather Service broadcasts tsunami warnings across Alaska at least once a year. That’s when the community of Kake runs their own drills. They make sure the clinic is stocked and all the school kids are accounted for.
They also have tsunami sirens that blare across town.
“It’s just a big issue here in Kake and we take this drill very seriously,” Kadake said.
Like a lot of communities in Alaska, Kake wasn’t prepared for an earthquake like the one the one that hit in 1964. Now, Kadake said, they’ll be ready.