The Earth Moved!

Two of the biggest earthquakes ever recorded occurred in the month of March.

At 5:25 pm local time on March 27, 1964, the Great Alaskan Earthquake -- also called the Good Friday Earthquake or the Portage Earthquake -- hit Prince William Sound, Alaska.

At least 125 people died in the tsunamis, ground fissures, avalanches, landslides, and collapsing buildings which resulted.

The epicenter was about 12.4 miles north of Prince William Sound, hence the name. It was 40 miles west of Valdez and 78 miles east of Anchorage.

The megathrust earthquake was the result of a rupture of the fault between the Pacific and North American tectonic plates caused major major damage was caused to the city of Anchorage and communities hundreds of miles from that city.

The quake, which lasted almost four minutes, was the second most powerful earthquake ever measured with a seismograph with a magnitude of 9.2, and to this day remains the most powerful in the history of North America.

So great was the jolt that it caused the ballistic missile detector at Clear Air Force Station, five miles away from Anchorage, to go offline for approximately six minutes. This was the only time the detector was ever non-operational in its entire history.

The area around Kodiak, 200 miles southwest of Anchorage, was devastated as well, with some areas of the ground raised, permanently, by 30 feet, while southeast of Anchorage, areas around Girdwood and Portage dropped 8 feet. A huge underwater landslide under Port Valdez killed 30 people when the city harbor and docks collapsed, pulling the ship docked there into the sea.

The village of Chenega was engulfed by a tsunami which measured 27 feet, and subsequent tsunamis hit Seward, Whittier, Kenai, and Kodiak as well as numerous smaller villages.

The entire planet shook measurably as a consequence of the earthquake. In Crescent City, California, twelve people were killed by the tsunami, and four at Newport Beach, Oregon. Boats in the port of Los Angeles were damaged by the jolt, fishing boats in Louisiana sank, and there were seiches, or slouching of water, in wells in South Africa.

Three hours after the quake, a tsunami hit the west coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, destroying more than 50 homes and damaging nearly 400 more. There were literally thousands of aftershocks, with eleven of them in the first 24 hours measuring more than 6.0 on the Richter scale. In fact, those shocks didn't stop until more than a year after the original earthquake.

Nearly 47 years later, on March 11, 2011, at 2:46 pm local time, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck the Tohoku region of Japan. It too was a megathrust earthquake and struck just off the Japanese coast and was the most powerful earthquake to ever have hit Japan. It lasted about six minutes and measured 9.0 on the Richter scale with an epicenter near the east coast of Honshu, 231 miles northeast of Tokyo and 81 miles east of Sendai.

It was preceded by foreshocks of up to 7.2 magnitude two days prior to the big one, and it was so powerful that it moved Japan's largest island, Honshu, eight feet east of where it was before the quake, while the axis of the earth shifted more than 3 inches.

It triggered tsunami waves which were up to 133 feet tall and caused the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of residents of the island.

Numerous nuclear accidents were caused by the quake, including a Level 7 meltdown at three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Level 7 is the highest level of meltdown in the scale, and this particular one is still in process.

Though the death toll is still changing, at this point, at least 15,850 people died in the earthquake and tsunamis, more than 3,200 people are still missing, and approximately 340,000 people were displaced. Official estimates are that 45,700 buildings were destroyed and approximately 145,000 damaged, and more than 24 million tons of debris and rubble were created in the country.