A black-and-white photo of a house that's been knocked off its foundations with a car underneath it.

Photo Credit: Port Alberni Maritime Heritage Museum

The Great Tsunami of 1964

If we can learn anything from it, it's that working together works

It moved houses across town, flung cars into trees—but everyone helping each other saved Alberni

On March 28th, 1964, a 9.2 magnitude earthquake hit Alaska.

It sent shock waves all down the BC coast, and when they hit Alberni Inlet, they compiled.

The narrow inlet funnelled the waves into a tsunami. It’s final destination?

Port Alberni.

Despite having no real warning system in place, the community came together and pulled off a miracle.

The first wave hit the community just after midnight when most of the town was asleep.

“At first it just came really slowly just like a super high tide. We thought a fire hydrant broke at first,” Bob Cole told CHEK News of the incident. Back then, he was a teenager who had stayed out past his curfew that night.

Luckily, the wave wasn’t large enough to do any large scale damage—and it gave people time to escape.

Folks ran through streets, knocking on doors and alerting others to the danger.

“We watched the river go bone dry between waves. It looked like you could walk across it!” said Cole.

This is one of the key markers that a tsunami is about to hit.

Once this happened, they didn’t have much time.

By working together, they somehow managed to get everyone to safety before the second wave hit. That wave was big enough to total the community.

Because of the way foundations were built at the time, entire homes were carried across town. Cars flew through the streets, bridges bent from the force of the rushing water.

And the whole city went dark as power was taken out.

The water didn’t recede until days later, and only then did people see the full extent of the damage.

More than 50 homes and properties were completely destroyed.

But by some miracle, not one person was seriously injured.

Even with no official warning system in place, the entire town survived.

If anything, the event brought everyone together. It directly caused the amalgamation of Alberni and Port Alberni into a single town in 1966.

Today, we’d hope if the same were to happen, the town would come together to help each other the same way.

Because it’s not a matter of if, but when another tsunami hits, and we have to be prepared.