The 1964 Good Friday earthquake, the worst in North American history, caused a catastrophic series of tsunamis in the North Pacific. In this illustration, a tsunami's wall of water—topped by flaming oil—destroys the docks of Seward, Alaska.

Illustration by Pierre Mion, National Geographic
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    On March 27, 1964, a 9.2-magnitude earthquake struck south-central Alaska. The quake fell on Good Friday (the Friday before Easter Sunday), and was named after the religious holiday.
    The Good Friday earthquake was a megathrust quake. Megathrust earthquakes occur in subduction zones, where one tectonic plate violently slides beneath another. Off the coast of Alaska, the Pacific plate jolted beneath the North American plate.
    The Alaskan coast was largely unprepared for the Good Friday earthquake. Houses, schools, and other buildings collapsed. Water and sewage pipelines were destroyed. Landslides wrecked electrical and gas lines. The quake resulted in several tsunamis, which caused damage as far away as California, Hawaii, and even Japan. More than 125 people died.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    abandoned Adjective


    coast Noun

    edge of land along the sea or other large body of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: coast
    collapse Verb

    to fall apart completely.

    damage Noun

    harm that reduces usefulness or value.

    destroy Verb

    to ruin or make useless.

    earthquake Noun

    the sudden shaking of Earth's crust caused by the release of energy along fault lines or from volcanic activity.

    forest Noun

    ecosystem filled with trees and underbrush.

    island Noun

    body of land surrounded by water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: island
    jolt Verb

    to roughly and suddenly shake something.

    landslide Noun

    the fall of rocks, soil, and other materials from a mountain, hill, or slope.

    Encyclopedic Entry: landslide
    megathrust earthquake Noun

    earthquake that occurs in subduction zones (convergent boundaries), where one tectonic plate slides beneath another.

    permanent Adjective

    constant or lasting forever.

    pipeline Noun

    series of pipes used to transport liquids or gases over long distances.

    root Noun

    part of a plant that secures it in the soil, obtains water and nutrients, and often stores food made by leaves.

    sewage Noun

    liquid and solid waste material from homes and businesses.

    subduction zone Noun

    area where one tectonic plate slides under another.

    tectonic plate Noun

    massive slab of solid rock made up of Earth's lithosphere (crust and upper mantle). Also called lithospheric plate.

    tsunami Noun

    ocean waves triggered by an earthquake, volcano, or other movement of the ocean floor.