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August 25, 2004

Oceans Alive Video Festival Success in Seward

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Seward, Alaska—More than 100 Alaskans were swept to their deaths when multiple tsunamis hit Alaska shores after the 1964 earthquake. The magnitude 9.2 temblor was the most powerful ever recorded in North America. Seward was one of the hardest-hit towns. The memory of that tragic evening remains vivid for Seward residents who witnessed the destruction.

Some of their memories were shared on Tuesday, August 24, when the Alaska Sea Grant College Program from the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences sponsored an evening video festival at the Institute of Marine Science K.M. Rae Building auditorium.

The featured attraction was Ocean Fury: Tsunamis in Alaska. The 25-minute video begins with interviews of people in Seward, Kodiak, and Valdez who describe in chilling detail what they saw when the black waves of March attacked their towns. Seward residents got a sneak preview of this television show, which is scheduled to air statewide on October 21 on the AlaskaOne Public Television Network.

Fifty-two people attended the video showings, including Bob Eads and Jeffrey Austin, two men who appear in the video. Eyewitnesses from Seward who appear in the video include Eads, Emmitt Smith, Doug McCrae, Patricia Williams, and former resident, Al Burch. Jeff Austin describes how Seward earned the distinction of becoming Alaska’s first Tsunami-Ready Community, and Sue Fleetwood demonstrates how the warning siren procedure works. The Seward Library and Seward Historical Museum contributed material for the program.

With state-of-the art 3-D video animations, the program explains what causes tsunamis and describes UAF Arctic Region Supercomputing Center research that was used to create maps that project where tsunamis will flood towns under different conditions. Officials in Seward and Kodiak used the maps to plan evacuation routes and help win Tsunami-Ready designations for their communities. The program also describes how the tsunami warning system operates in Alaska from its headquarters in Palmer and points out how people should react when an earthquake occurs.

"The idea is to capture some of the thoughts of the people who witnessed one of the world’s most impressive natural disasters. Most of us weren’t here in 1964, so I wanted to interview people who were actually here and saw the incredible force of the tsunamis. I think that really helps drive home the point that we need to be prepared for the next time tsunamis hit us," said Sea Grant’s Kurt Byers, executive producer of the video.

Byers points out that even mild quakes can trigger massive underwater landslides in Resurrection Bay. The slides can generate tsunamis that may hit shore within minutes of the quake. That happened in 1964.

"One of the take-home lessons learned from Seward’s 1964 disaster is that if you have trouble standing or if a quake lasts more than 30 seconds, don’t wait to hear a siren. Head to high ground if you’re near the ocean," said Byers.

The program was co-produced with the UAF Geophysical Institute Alaska Earthquake Information Center, and the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

The second video highlighted the 2004 National Ocean Sciences Bowl (NOSB), a high school marine science quiz bowl competition co-sponsored by Alaska Sea Grant and hosted by Seward every February.

The 2004 NOSB took place in Seward High School, the Alaska SeaLife Center and the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences K.M. Rae Building. Teams from Anchorage, Bethel, Cordova, Homer, Juneau-Douglas, Mat-Su, Ninilchik, Selawik, Seward, Soldotna and Tununak squared off last winter.

Seward’s entry was composed of team captain Phelan Miller, Cecile Formosa, Jolie Glaser, Teal Hetrick, Jonathan Wilkie, Tyler Crista and Cody Kelsoe. Jason Fantz coached the team. A team from Juneau-Douglas High School won the event and went on to compete in the national finals in Charleston, South Carolina. The winning team members also were awarded one-year tuition waivers from UAF. The video was produced by the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program in Anchorage.

The third video was Life on the Beach: Among Friends and Anemones. This 20-minute program is aimed at elementary school-age students and their teachers, natural history guides and interpreters, environmental educators, and anyone interested in the rocky intertidal ecosystem of Alaska’s shores.

"The video is filled with great, close-up images of the plants and animals that inhabit our rocky beaches. The premise is that a teacher and two teenagers from Interior Alaska go on a beach walk with a Native boy who lives on the coast somewhere in Southcentral Alaska. Together they discover all kinds of fascinating plants and animals and learn about predator-prey relationships, how the organisms adapt to their harsh environment, how tides occur, and how to visit a beach with minimal disruption to the habitat. The Native boy also explains how Alaska Natives rely on intertidal plants and animals for food. Most of the footage was shot in Southcentral and Southeast Alaska," said Byers.

The intertidal video was a joint effort of Alaska Sea Grant and the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies in Homer, with assistance from the Alaska Conservation Foundation.

These videos also were shown throughout the day at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward.

Alaska Sea Grant is a marine research, education and public outreach program housed in the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. It is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in partnership with the State of Alaska.

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