On Friday, March 27th, 1964, the ground in Alaska shook. It didn’t just shake – the earthquake was a 9.2 on the Richter scale – the second most powerful earthquake ever recorded, and the most powerful one in North America.
The earthquake was so powerful, that the tsunami that followed caused causalities in Oregon and California.
139 people died in that earthquake.
Anchorage was almost completely destroyed by the earthquake, after having had experienced rapid growth (Alaska had only joined the United States 5 years earlier).
Electricity, water and telephone networks in the city were completely collapsed, and the atmosphere of chaos only intensified following the after-shock waves and tsunami that swept through the city.
But something else kept working in Anchorage: the radio broadcaster Genie Chance.
With the aid of generators, the managers of the station where Chance worked managed to bring back the broadcast shortly after the earthquake. But it turned out the news anchors and leading star of the station, a newly acquisitioned talent from Los Angeles, and when he was found he refused to get to the radio station. He turned in his resignation shortly after and announced that he was returning to Los Angeles.
In contrast, not only did Chance not run – she stayed close to the microphone for as long as she was needed. And she was needed for 59 straight hours.
Chance was in her car at the time of the earthquake, managed to get a hold of the station using his mobile microphone, and start reporting from the field right away. In a calm voice, she implored people to practice restraint, to host neighbors whose house was destroyed or who didn’t have access to the radio shelter, and made frequent updates about rescue efforts in town. When she understood that panic was getting in the way of rescue missions, she started reading out messages from the town residents: Jane Doe want to let her partner Jack know that is is OK and is located at… X wants Y to contact him ASAP at…
After 30 straight hours of broadcast, she took her first two-hour break in order to nap, and returned to broadcast right away. As time went out, she began to broadcast the names of the dead and missing.
Her broadcast during the events made Chance a national hero in Alaska, and many claim that her broadcast helped calm the atmosphere in the city.
She was born in Texas and moved with her first husband to Alaska a few years before the Earthquake, as part of an immigration wave to the new country.
She quickly became a reporter on the local radio station, but in contrast to other women during that time, she didn’t cover fashion and cooking, but real news. She roamed Alaska with a microphone and reported on military exercises at sea, broadcast from fishing boats and remote villages in Alaska and more. The New York Times called her “an Alaskan housewife and mother who does the job of a man with a microphone.”
Chance kept broadcasting even after life in town returned to normal, and started a PR company. In the end of the 1960s, she decided to join politics and was elected to the local House of Representatives in Alaska.
Despite being elected through the Democrat party, she went on to marry a Republican congress member in 1971. They both kept their jobs in the House of Representatives, each in their own party.
One of her greatest achievements as a lawmaker was to pass abortion legislation in the state – 3 years before abortion was approved in the United States.
In 1998 the voice of the woman who helped so many people remain calm even when the worst had happened, was forever lost.