Earthquake Impact Studies
Great Alaska Earthquake
On March 27, 1964, much of Alaska was rocked by a series of seismic tremors that resulted in over 100 Alaskan deaths and millions of dollars in property damages. Four fishing villages in southern Alaska were destroyed by tidal wave, and many other communities suffered heavy damage.
Residents of Chenega and Kodiak Island were forced to rebuild their communities entirely, and Chenega suffered the sudden death of 23 of its roughly 100 residents. Most of the local losses were due to immediate, geographically limited underwater slides, and the majority of deaths were attributed to drowning.
Lantis’s studies on the cultural and health impacts of the 1964 Alaska earthquake were some of the first contributions to disaster studies within the field of anthropology.
Following the earthquake known to locals as the “Good Friday Earthquake,” Lantis researched hospital records in various Alaska communities to examine the health impacts of the natural disaster, confirming the suspected marked rise in upper respiratory infections after the quake exacerbated by refugee housing conditions.
In 1966, Lantis interviewed housewives to investigate individual families’ preparation and response to the earthquake, as well as their perceptions of future natural disaster preparedness. She was particularly interested in how households coped with the disaster during the immediate emergency period and what help they received from and provided to other neighboring households.
In the absence of public utilities, the women of Anchorage neighborhoods experienced a regression in technology—cooking over open fires, using candles and lanterns, and physically delivering messages rather than telephoning. These women also exhibited an overall increase in mutual assistance, with heightened labor exchange, borrowing and lending, and cooking and eating together with other families to save scarce fuel and resources.
In her 1984 manuscript, "When the Earthquake Hits Home: Anchorage in the Great Alaska Earthquake," Lantis reports the local reaction to one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded by seismograph:
“They watched trees and light poles bend way over as the earth heaved in waves of motion. They watched cracks in the ground and in walls open and close. They thought the shaking would never end, some even saying that they thought the end of the earth was occurring."