The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

April 18, 2014

Saybrook Township man remembers Good Friday Alaska quake

Fifty years ago on Good Friday, at 5:36 p.m., a magnitude 9.2 earthquake shook Anchor-age, Alaska, for more than four minutes.

Highways cracked opened, buildings folded and tsunamis rolled into coastal areas. Two hundred people lost their lives.

A resident of Alaska at the time, Saad Assad, 87, of Say-brook Town-ship remembers that day in 1964 very well.

He was out of the country, working on the Tarbela Dam on the Indus River in West Pakistan. It’s the largest earth-and-rock filled dam in the world and the second largest by structural volume. The project was being financed by West Pakistan, India and The World Bank.

“It was the only time Pakistan and India were friendly,” said the Cleveland native, who retired 25 years ago.

On Good Friday, which fell on March 27 that year, Assad was serving as an usher at an outdoor Protestant sunrise church service on top of a bluff overlooking Mangla, West Pakistan.

“Before  the service began,  our

pastor, the Rev. Paul Pulliam announced that a 9.2 earthquake had devastated the Anchorage, Alaska area,” he said. “It was the second strongest earthquake in modern history.”

Terribly disturbed by the news, Assad called home and talked with friends Fair-banks, Haines, Pt. Barrow and Ketchikan. He discovered his friend, Dr. Paul Haggland and his sons, had flown their private airplanes from Fairbanks to Anchorage to help in the rescue effort.

A section of downtown Anchorage sank 30-plus feet and within minutes of the quake, tsunamis washed into Whittier, Chenega, and Valdez. A tsunami also killed people in Crescent City, Calif.

“Again I am reminded we are a true Americans when war or disasters hit our nation,” Assad said. “Unfortunately, we cannot always behave that way, i.e. Congress and election year 2014.”

To Assad and other Alaskans, the earthquake was an unforgettable tragedy, but scientists came away with something to help predict future quakes —  a theory that was just then surfacing in seismology — platetectonics.

Alaska was the first “properly interpreted” megathrust quake, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. When forces build up where tectonic plates meet, the results can be catastrophic.

In 1964, Alaska lost life and property, but scientists learned the theory of plate tectonics was correct.

Today, Assad makes his home in Saybrook Township, not far from Cleveland, where his parents settled in 1890.

Luckily, the U.S. Geological Survey shows there is only a 2.8 percent chance of a major earthquake within 50 kilometers of Ashtabula within the next 50 years. The largest earthquake within 30 miles of Ashtabula was a 5.0 magnitude in 1986.

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