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Thursday, March 27, 2014

THE GREAT ALASKAN EARTHQUAKE



Exactly fifty years ago today, the Great Alaskan Earthquake at Prince William Sound, with a moment magnitude of 9.2, caused $311 million (worth $2.2 billion today) in damages and killed 139.  This was the second largest earthquake in recorded history, next to the 1960 Valdes Chile monster rated at 9.5.  In comparison, the 2011 Great Tohoku Earthquake was a 9.0, but mostly because of the subsequent tsunami, resulted in a death toll of 15,884, with 2,633 still missing, and the largest natural disaster economic loss ever, at $235 billion.  Hurricane Katrina in 2005 had an estimated damage cost of $81 billion.  Worse, though, just the clean-up of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe could add up as high as $10 trillion!!!  Thus, fortunately, that Alaskan earthquake of a half century ago did not make any top ten list for economic nor human cost.


Nevertheless, that earthquake was monumental, as parts of Alaska rose 30 feet, and others dropped 8 feet.  As reported, a 27-foot tsunami was created, but Shoup Bay in Alaska saw a height of 210 feet.  There is every expectation that earthquakes from Alaska will continue to come, for:


Note also that this portion of the Ring of Fire is more dangerous closer to Japan, in particular that portion of the country east of north Honshu, or Tohoku.  Click on that map to expand it, but the larger the circle, the stronger the earthquake.  On my trip to Japan next month I'll be staying at the Westin Sendai, close to Fukushima and this earthquake-prone region.  Interesting, but when I made my hotel reservation a couple of months ago, the price was $45/night.  I just went to that site and the cost has zoomed up to $250/night.  Maybe it's now safer.
There were no injuries and minimal damage from this tsunami in Hawaii, even though the waves reached a height of 11 feet in Kahului Harbor and 12 feet in Hilo.  Part of the reason why is that we were hard hit in the forties and fifties and learned a lesson or two.  But we were also lucky, for most of the tsunami energy was directed at the West Coast, where eleven were killed in Crescent City, California.  For those living in Honolulu, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will this morning at 10 AM present "Tsunami, Waves of Destruction:  50 Years of Lessons Learned," at the Bishop Museum planetarium.  It is free if you are younger than four, but escalates up to $19.95 for adults.

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