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Valdez Rises: One Town's Struggle for Survival after the Great Alaska Earthquake

Valdez Rises: One Town's Struggle for Survival after the Great Alaska Earthquake

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On March 27, 1964, the largest earthquake ever to strike North America devastated Alaska’s coast. Valdez, a town of 500 people, lay at ground zero. Here, buildings crumbled, roads cracked open, and the entire waterfront collapsed into the ocean. Within days of the quake, officials decided they could not rebuild Valdez in situ—the site was unstable. Instead, the entire town would move.

The Valdez City Council rallied the town, oversaw the buy-out of Old Town homes, assigned new town lots, and coordinated with a sea of federal and state agencies to build roads, utilities, schools, parks, businesses and homes. Within just four years, the new town was built and every man, woman and child moved. The epic relocation was a success and positioned Valdez to win the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline Terminal.

The voices of Helen Long, a World War II veteran and publisher of the 
Valdez Breeze newspaper; Ethel Rhoden, the local barber; and the town’s sequence of mayors and city council members enrich the unvarnished story and reveal the community’s tenacity and resilience. Their voices also reveal the pervasive challenges of grief, fear, conflict and uncertainty.

Today, communities across the globe face rising sea levels while others are destroyed by an increasing number of severe natural disasters. These towns are being forced to relocate and rebuild. For these communities, their residents, and leaders, the Valdez experience offers a message of hope.

Global warming, climate change, city planning, Alaska history, 1964 earthquake, disaster recovery, women's history

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