The Cost of a Comeback

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This article by James Thompson first appeared in the May 29, 2017 issue of High Country News with the title “The big one.”

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How to make money off ‘the Big One’

Can an imminent disaster be a tourist draw for Anchorage?

The 1964 earthquake in Anchorage, Alaska, ravaged stores and collapsed roadways. Today the region is perpetually expecting the next Big One.
Bill Ray/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Whenever I felt an earthquake, I’d look at the clock. That way, when the quake was announced on the evening news, I could say, “Hey, I felt that one!” Only if the tremors persisted and intensified would I wonder, Is this the Big One? Should I find a desk to crawl under?

In the 20 years that I lived in Anchorage, Alaska, it never was, and I never did.

On March 27, 1964, the second-strongest earthquake ever recorded anywhere in the world struck south-central Alaska, devastating much of Anchorage. During my childhood, in the 1980s, there were few physical reminders of the cataclysm, and the temblors I experienced were too feeble to tip over a vase. But Anchoragites will remind you of the Big One every chance they get — because the 1964 quake was just one Big One. The longer the span of time that has elapsed since the last Big One, the bigger the next Big One is sure to be. Just picture Mother Nature silently cocking her rubber-band gun, stretching it farther … and farther … and farther. …

The next Big One, locals say, is guaranteed to make the 1964 quake feel like a coin-operated vibrating bed in a budget motel.

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Comments about this article

Richard Crow Subscriber
May 30, 2017 04:45 PM
If you live in Anchorage you might as well live in Cleveland.
Tom & Jane Meacham Subscriber
May 30, 2017 05:37 PM
I've lived in Anchorage since 1967, and I find the author's observations both laughable and borderline offensive. I could go on at length about Anchorage's remarkable interface between the 21st century and the wild outdoors, which is unique in the world, in my opinion. And as far as his belittling of Anchorage for lacking prestigious universities, what the heck is Stratford University, anyway?? And what state would want to be known for its famous tubers, if it had a choice?

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