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10:27 PM Tue, Jan. 22nd

Meet Your Neighbors: Kingman resident recalls 1964 Alaskan quake

Tom Dobbins can never forget where he was and what he was doing at 5:36 p.m.

on March 27, 1964.

Dobbins was in the United States Army and stationed at Fort Richardson outside of Anchorage, Alaska.

He worked in the base's finance and payroll department.

"I was preparing to go to a movie on the base with a friend when we heard a loud roar that sounded like a train," Dobbins said.

"He asked me what it was and I kiddingly said it was an earthquake, although I really didn't have a clue."

After perhaps 10 seconds, Dobbins realized he had hit the nail on the head in his half-hearted prediction.

The Good Friday earthquake had begun.

He expected to die in the next few minutes.

"We were on the third floor of a block building and watched as the walls caved in," he said.

"The cement floor rose three feet in the air and moved in waves.

"You couldn't lay down, sit or stand, so you just rode with it.

Fortunately, nobody in the building was hurt."

The earthquake was in two parts.

The shaking lasted about 2.5 minutes before there was a 10-second lull followed by another 2.5 minutes of shaking, Dobbins said.

Dobbins, who was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, arrived for duty at Fort Richardson in December 1963.

He had been stationed there just three months when the Good Friday quake struck.

It measured 8.4 on the Richter scale.

But experts revised that figure in 1996 and raised the magnitude to 9.2, Dobbins said.

"A tidal wave followed that picked up fishing boats and moved them one to 1.5 miles inland," Dobbins said.

"A lot of the forest in the area is still dead."

Damage to the fort was considerable with six buildings being condemned.

But Dobbins and other enlistees were able to move back into their barracks within 48 hours.

Fourth Street, the main street through Anchorage, dropped 12 feet, he said.

There were 105 deaths in Anchorage and the surrounding area and one fatality on the base, Dobbins said.

The numbers were less than first estimates with one newspaper headline indicating 600 were killed.

"A lot of people there thought the world was ending because it was Good Friday," Dobbins said.

"Some people in the lower 48 states thought Alaska had been attacked by Russia in some way, shape or form because communications were severed in an instant.

Some people thought an atomic bomb had been dropped or missiles sent in."

In a bit of irony, an aftershock registering 7.4 struck Anchorage the following Friday at precisely 5:36 p.m., he said.

Garnet Dobbins, Tom's wife of 24 years, was living in Pittsburgh at the time of the earthquake.

"I didn't know anyone in Alaska," she said.

"To me it was a natural disaster and I was concerned for the people caught in it."

It took about six months to clear all the debris from Fort Richardson so rebuilding could begin, Dobbins said.

In December 1965, he was transferred to Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Wash., which is where he finished his enlistment.

The Dobbinses enjoy traveling and took a 14-day trip combining a cruise with an inland tour to Alaska in August 1996.

He said there were no obvious signs of the earthquake at Fort Richardson or in Anchorage.

"The earthquake taught me about my own mortality," Dobbins said.

"Something can take your life at any time."

Tom and Garnet Dobbins moved to Kingman from Scottsdale in February 2000 when he accepted a position with a local bank.

He now is vice president and human resources manager there.

Neighbors is a feature that appears Monday in the Kingman Daily Miner.

If you have an interesting story you'd like to share, contact Terry Organ at 753-6397 ext.

225.