The Largest Earthquake In U.S. History Happened 50 Years Ago Today

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

At 5:36 p.m. on March 27, 1964, a 9.2-magnitude earthquake erupted 78 miles east of Anchorage, Alaska. The earthquake remains the most powerful earthquake to strike North America, and the second-largest earthquake ever measured.

In addition to more than three minutes of shaking, the earthquake unleashed unimaginable devastation to Alaska's landscape, including tsunamis, liquefaction, ground fissures, avalanches, and underwater landslides. The coastline was resculpted, and some areas saw the earth raised as high as 30 feet. In the days after the earthquake, 11 aftershocks were recorded with a magnitude greater than 6.2.


Only 139 people died in the earthquake, however, and only 15 as a direct result of the quake itself. Most people died from the two tsunamis, including 5 people in Oregon and 13 in California. Many areas of Anchorage and Juneau had to be completely redeveloped. Here are some of the most incredible photos taken after the biggest U.S. quake ever.

A landslide wiped out a neighborhood in Anchorage


In Anchorage, the Denali Theater collapsed in a landslide, causing its marquee to rest on the sidewalk

Ground fissures like this were so powerful they displaced concrete foundations and severed utility lines


A span of the Million Dollar Bridge collapsed into the Copper River

A landslide tore apart the Government Hill school in Anchorage


A two-feet wide ground fracture opened in Seward

These rails were torn from their ties on the Alaska Railroad from ground movement


The air traffic control tower at the Anchorage airport collapsed in the shaking

Cars and boats were scattered across the Kodiak waterfront by one of several tsunamis


Fissures opened on a highway near Portage

The village of Portage sank six feet due to tectonic subsidence


Along the coast, the sea floor was raised up to 30 feet

You can see the white marine organisms and ropes of kelp that were stranded on the new cliffs


An ancient forest which had been submerged was pushed nine feet above sea level

The port of Valdez had to be permanently relocated after underwater landslides moved the shoreline


A truck was wrapped around a tree in waves generated by underwater landslides near Seward

All photos by USGS