From the archives: March 25, 2004 edition of Ha-Shilth-Sa
In 1964, the largest ever-recorded North American earthquake rocked Prince William Sound in Alaska. Measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale. The quake generated a tsunami (often referred to as tidal waves) that would reach the coasts of British Columbia, Western United States, Hawaii and Japan.
The earthquake occurred at 5:27 p.m. Alaskan Standard Time. The tremors caused the seafloor in Prince William Sound to lift and created submarine landslides. The waves fanned out from Alaska, making their way across the Pacific Ocean in the darkness of Good Friday night.
Without warning systems in place, coastal communities were taken by surprise as the ‘tide’ rose past flood levels. Many did not know what was going on, only that the water was coming up fast and they needed to get to high ground.
Residents of Hot Springs Cove were settling in for the night as their generator, which supplied electricity to the entire community was shut off at 11:00 p.m. as was the usual practice. With no power for lights people scrambled to high ground by the light of the full moon as rising water lifted houses off their foundations. Some were forced to swim with their babies on the bitterly cold March night.
Of the 18 homes on the shores of Hot Springs Cove, only two were not destroyed. Amazingly, despite the lack of warning and given the magnitude of destruction, no lives were lost in Hot Springs Cove that night.
The community was eventually relocated to higher ground on the north side of the cove. To this day, survivors take seriously any tsunami warning and they move to higher ground and wait it out.
It has been forty years since that frightening night and many of those that were young adults in 1964 are still there in the relocated village, which overlooks the abandoned village site. Residents still living in the small community happily shared their memories of that night. For most, memories are vague and details are sometimes lost but all remember the fear and panic as each helped one another reach safety. Here are their stories.
Sue Charleson: I remember that day so well. It was March 27th, Good Friday, my twin brother’s birthday. I was ironing clothes getting ready for Easter Sunday Mass. The generator went off, it usually went off around 11:00 p.m. and it was probably about 3 minutes to eleven when we heard a big bang. Mike (Tom Sr.) looked out the window and saw a boat drifting past our house.
They had just finished building an addition to the house for the washing machine and that snapped right off. That must have been the big bang we heard.
Jessie (Sue’s daughter) was only seven months old and by the time I got her wrapped and ready to leave the water was so high we ended up having to swim. Me, Mrs. Tom and Jessie stood up on the clothesline stump in back of the house.
Mike Tom (Junior in 1964): I was about 20 or 21 years old. We had a tiny house, maybe 24’ by 24’ and it had one bedroom. Me, Sue and Jessie lived there with my mother and father. We were just getting ready to go to bed when we heard noises under the house, like cans clanging together. Dad looked out and said ‘hoo, there’s water coming up the stairs’. We looked for somewhere higher for mom, Sue and Jessie. Lucky it was full moon, real bright and the ladies went up on Mom’s clothesline stump while me and Dad went to look for his canoe.
The stump was high but it was just high enough, another two to four inches and the water would have gone right over top. When the water went back down again we all walked to Steve Charleson Sr.’s (the northern-most house).
The Tom’s house was near the center of the old village. Mike says everyone from the center of the village south scrambled for Louie Sabbas Sr.’s house; the southern-most house and everyone north of center ran to the Charleson house. The remains of the Charleson house still stand today.
Mike said the water rose and receded a total of four times that night and reached just under the Charleson house but the house was high enough that the water did not get inside.
One house, Matthew Lucas Sr.’s, drifted all the way to Ivan Clarke’s (Government Dock). Three women, Cecilia Tom, Janet Webster and an elder known as Na’Na were locked inside, unable to open windows or doors. Tony Charleson rescued them from a canoe before the house burst into flames. It may not be a coincidence that Mamie Lucas, widow of Matthew Lucas Sr. built her home on one of the highest hills in Hot Springs Cove.
There were about 18 houses and Louie and Steve’s houses were the only ones okay. One drifted away and the rest were lifted off of their posts, becoming twisted, unstable wrecks.
Betty Lucas: A young girl living at Christie Residential School at the time, Betty had no idea what her family at home was going through. All I know is we were woken up and told to pray for all Hesquiahts. I asked why but they told us to just pray so we did. The next day we found out all the houses were gone.
Joe Tom Sr., 91 said he was a telephone lineman at the time and was at home with three of his kids. He said he was looking out at his boat and noticed it was listing to one side. Upon closer inspection he noticed a canoe and putt-putt had drifted away. The tide suddenly went real low so he went to look for the boats. He found one near the present-day village site. ‘When I got back my house was drifting away,” he said. Nobody got hurt and that was good.
He said Ahousaht called and told us to go there so the next morning we took the women and children there. The next day there were six or seven media from all over flying over and taking pictures.
Regina Amos: Regina Amos, 22 at the time, says she was playing cards with her then-husband, Joe Tom Jr. when the tsunami hit. Their little house was located below the present-day village on the Northeast edge of the cove. “We had an Airedale dog that kept barking and trying to come in and Joseph had to keep getting up to take him back out. During one of the trips to take the dog back out Joe noticed the tide had come up very high causing his father’s fishing boat, the Miss Marina to drift. The water was getting close to the top of the porch,” Amos recalls.
Her late Aunt Alice Paul got ‘so panicked’; she was looking after preschooler, Angela Galligos. “Aunty Alice woke Ang up and when the water went down we all went for the boat.” She says the water went extremely low, right to the drop-off.
At the time, Amos says she had no idea what was going on, all they had on their minds was the safety of others. She giggles when she recalls the story of two elders, who will remain unnamed, drinking behind one of the houses of the time, “They were having a good old time,” remembers Amos, “They didn’t have a care in the world and weren’t worried at all!”
“I saw my parents’ house was going and we were busy helping to rescue as many people as we could,” says Amos. She estimates there ended up being more than 20 people aboard the tiny fishing boat.
She says the house they lived in was supported with heavy timbers and, perhaps for that reason, didn’t’ lift off its posts or drift away despite the water reaching right to the top of the porch. The next morning, she says, the air was thick with the foul smell of low tide as she and other family members shoveled a thick layer of mud from their house.
Sometime during the morning, people from Ahousaht arrived to take people to shelter at Ahousaht. “I think we stayed there for three or four days and there were donations of all kinds coming in for food, clothing and furniture.