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We’ll Meet Again, Great Alaskan Earthquake

  • Written by David B. Clark

On Good Friday, March 27, 1964 the most powerful earthquake in North American history shook Alaska for nearly five minutes. Two tectonic plates that had been grinding against each other for millennia finally caused a 600-mile fault to rupture. Fissures, landslides, and a chain of tsunamis ripped through the state. Soil liquification—a process that causes solids to behave like liquids—dropped entire expanses of land into the sea. Two little girls, Gretchen and Michelle, had just returned to their neighborhood of Turnagain in Anchorage after an afternoon of ice skating when they felt the ground rumble. They immediately ran up the stairs, seeking Gretchen’s mother.

“We’ll Meet Again with Ann Curry” is  a PBS television series hosted by award-winning journalist Ann Curry. The show explores some of the most harrowing moments in history and reconnects the individuals separated by these dramatic and life-altering events. “We’ll Meet Again” provides an intimate yet relatable look at how ordinary people’s lives are changed. The first season of the show highlighted the lives of those affected by war, the Civil Rights movement, and even the tragedy of 9/11. The second episode of the second season aimed in part to reconnect two little girls caught in the second largest earthquake in recorded history. Woodinville resident Gretchen Huizinga was one of those little girls.

imageGretchen and her mother, Dorothy in Alaska (Photo by Gretchen Huizinga)Gretchen and Michelle huddled under Gretchen’s mother’s arms in 1964 as the house shook with the ground. The three stayed in the hallway under a doorframe. Michelle remembers feeling the safety and security of Gretchen’s mother, Dorothy, and her outstretched arms. Thankfully, the three remained unharmed while the earthquake claimed 131 causalities across the state of Alaska. After the quake ended, families all over Anchorage had to figure out how they would continue their lives. The earthquake had caused a quarter of a billion dollars in damage; roughly equivalent to $2.3 billion today.   

Gretchen’s extended family was in Washington during the earthquake so she, her mother, and siblings came down while her father, who was in the military, stayed in Alaska to help after the devastation. “It’s a common misconception that we stayed in Washington, but we didn’t. We went back. Alaskans are tough,” said Gretchen. She recalls the long days of darkness, splashing around in break-up boots, and the persistent cold that accompanies an Alaskan childhood. Gretchen has now lived in Woodinville since 1998. After bopping from cities in Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington, Michelle and her husband settled down in Woodinville to start their family. “We loved the Woodinville area and the schools,” said Gretchen. 

The touching nature of the show is structured so the genuine moments are captured perfectly, providing the audience with the heartwarming sensation of witnessing two long-lost friends coming together. Because of the natural catastrophe, the young friendship became scattered; both girls grew up and continued to live their separate lives. Michelle had done what she could to try and track down Gretchen, but it proved difficult.

image002Gretchen and her mother, Dorothy in Woodinville (Photo by Gretchen Huizinga)

Gretchen began getting phone calls and messages inquiring about the events that happened over 50 years ago. After some back-and-forth, the individuals with “We’ll Meet Again” had determined that Gretchen was the very woman Michelle was looking for.

Utilizing an intricate network of librarians and historians, Michelle finally was able to find Gretchen’s phone number. Gretchen’s home in Woodinville provided the perfect backdrop for the two friends, and Gretchen’s mother, to embrace one another and connect after half of century.

Now, Gretchen is the Executive Producer and Host of The Microsoft Research Podcast. Her show, “…brings listeners closer to the cutting-edge technology research and the scientists behind it.” The weekly podcast features some of brightest brains in research and tech from all over the world.

The “Great Alaskan Earthquake” episode premiers on PBS on Tuesday, December 18.

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