Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Nurse's letter on conditions after 1964 Alaska earthquake

In 1964, a massive earthquake and tidal wave struck Alaska. The hospital at the Naval Air Station in Kodiak was affected, although not as badly as it could have been.The original of this letter, in our Navy Medicine Historical Collection - Facilities - Kodiak, AK file, is a photocopy on thermal paper that is rapidly fading. This transcription is as accurate as I could make it, including punctuation and capitalization.
2 April 1964

CAPT Ruth Erickson
Bureau of Medicine and Surgery
Nursing Division
Washington, D.C.

Dear CAPT Erickson,

I received your letter this morning.  All of the nurses read it and were very pleased to hear from you. We have had no way or means of communication until the last day or so. We were receiving news reports from the States, and they sounded as if we no longer existed. I am happy to report we are all healthy, wiser but cold.

Friday around 1630 we had our first earthquake lasting about four minutes.  I have been in others, but none so severe.  Some of the ceiling lights in the hospital fell, and the wall cracked along the staircase to second floor.  Around 1800 we heard our first warning of the Tidal Wave.  Patients  and personnel were out of the hospital and evacuated to higher ground in a matter of minutes.

Late Friday night through the use of an emergency generator our lights were back in use.  We have had very little heat, but do have some electric heaters now to help keep the patients warm.  A large power generator was flown in yesterday and we have hopes of heat and hot water sometime today.

We have closed second floor and set up emergency OB on the first floor to conserve on heat.  We have had our first OB last night have about five more that are due.

The damage was quite extensive here on the Base.  One or two of the hangers were badly damaged, and I heard they dynamited the Bowling Alley, and several other buildings that were beyond hopes of repair.

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I went into Kodiak several days ago, and it is unbelievable.  The Tidal Wave lifted huge boats and set them on top of buildings, and in the main streets of town.  The famous Naughtons Bakery was heavily damaged, but I am sure they will eventually be back in operation.  The people have been very good in helping each other.  We sent a medical group in for two days to help give Typhoid Vaccine.

We truly are grateful we had no casualties on Base.  Two dependents lost their lives in outlying areas. The Red Cross was still working on the casualty list in the city of Kodiak yesterday, and having some difficulty with identification.

I inquired about LT Reichenbach.  Dr. Baker stationed here at Kodiak was in Anchorage when the earthquake occurred.   He saw LT Reichenbach on Saturday morning.  He checked the manifest just before he returned and her name was not listed as returning to the states.  I think all her household gear was lost here in storage, but will find out for certain in a few days.  We have her car here at quarters so at least that was saved.  We are going to try and contact her tomorrow.  I sent her a check on Thursday and we don't know whether it reached her or not.

I thought the Bureau had been informed as to what was happening out here.  We are still feeling slight tremors.  If anything else should occur I will try and send you the information as soon as possible.  Our best means of communication is to have pilots hand carry our mail back to the states.  We do have telegram service, but they are so far behind.

We all feel so much better now.  The heat just came on and we will soon have our first shower in six days.  Father Lavin has been real nice to us.  He brought us two space heaters and about eight large votive lights so that we would have better light at night.  Some of the nurses used hot rocks in their beds to keep warm.


Marcella E. Smith

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