In 1964 disaster struck settlements in Alaska, with Portage being left abandoned afterward. Most ghost towns in the United States are the old boom-bust towns - like the old gold rush era mining towns of the Wild West. Today more and more cities and towns are edging into becoming ghost towns - like Gary in the Rust Belt in Indiana. Portage is different from many of the other ghost towns in that it was destroyed by a powerful earthquake.

If one would like to see ghost towns in the United States, then Portage offers a rather unique type of ghost town. Here one can see the ghost forest, the remains of the abandoned settlement, and inundated cabins of neighboring settlements.

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History And Background Of Portage

Portage is located on Turnagain Arm in Alaska around 47 miles or 76 kilometers out of Anchorage. Turnagain Arm is a waterway into the northwestern part of the Gulf of Alaska and is known for large tides and extreme climate ranges.

  • Located: On Turnagain Arm 47 Miles From Anchorage

Population:

  • 1950: 54 Residents
  • 1960: 71 Residents

One fun fact about Turnagain Arm is that it was named by William Bligh of the HMS Bounty when he was part of one of Captain Cook's expeditions. He would go on to have his own ship with the crew mutining partly so that they could return to the women in Tahiti.

  • William Bligh Of The HMS Bounty: Named Turnagain Arm

The mutineers would go on to find the undiscovered Pitcairn Island and settle there with their Tahitian women - their descendants continue to live there today. Pitcairn is now home to the world's remotest AirBnB.

Related: You Can Find This Ghost Town In Banff National Park

The Devastating 1964 Alaskan Earthquake

The 1964 Alaskan earthquake shook the state at 5:36 PM AKST on Good Friday, March 27. It triggered tsunamis and caused massive damage (although the region was only sparsely populated). It claimed around 131 lives.

  • Date: Good Friday, March 27, 1964
  • Duration: 4 Minutes and 38 Seconds
  • Magnitude: 9.2 - Second Largest In Recorded History

The quake lasted for four minutes and thirty-eight seconds. It was a magnitude 9.2 megathrust earthquake and is the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in North America and the second most powerful ever recorded in world history. The most powerful was the 9.4-9.6 magnitude 1960 Valdivia earthquake in Chile.

Around 600 miles of the fault line ruptured and moved up by 60 feet (or 18 meters) that releasing around 500 years of pent-up stress. It resulted in soil liquefaction, fissures, landslides, and other ground failures caused major structural damage in several communities and much damage to property. Tsunamis from the quake-damaged places as far away as Hawaii and Japan.

Movement: 

  • The Faultline: Moved By Up To 60 Feet
  • Kodiak: Places Moved Up By 30 Feet
  • Turnagain Arm: Places Dropped by 8 Feet
  • Portage: Sank by Around 6 Feet

But while some areas around Kodiak were lifted up by 30 feet or 9 meters, some areas around Turnagain Arm dropped as much as 8 feet or 2.4 meters. The Seward Highway here found itself below the new high tide mark and so had to be built up.

In the carnage, Portage was destroyed as the ground beneath it sank by around 6 six feet or 1.8 meters. The tiny settlement found itself mostly below the new high tide level.

Related: The Eerie California Ghost Town Looks Like An (Abandoned) Wild West Movie Set

Visiting And What To See In Portage And Nearby Towns

Today, the remaining bits of Portage serves as a ghost town; a skeletal reminder of the mining community that once thrived there and the force of nature that destroyed it.

Atlas Obscura

In the wake of the earthquake, all that was left of Portage were ruins and a barren forest. With the land now under the high tide, it was decided then that Portage would be abandoned. If one goes to Portage today, there is not so much to see of the small settlement. There are still the ruins of a few buildings and notably the "ghost forest" of trees that died after the saltwater flooded them and inundated their roots.

  • See: The "Ghost Forest" And Remains Of The Buildings

Today there is only a railroad and road junction. Nearby is the Portage Glacier that is accessed via the Seward Highway - hundreds of years ago the glacier-filled the entire Portage Valley.

The neighboring town of Girdwood in Turnaround Arm was moved 2.5 miles up the valley as the original townsite also subsided into Turnagain Arm with much of the town below high tide. A nearby settlement of Alyeska was also abandoned and most of its inhabitants moved to the new Girdwood townsite as well.

  • Girdwood: The Neighboring Town Moved To Higher Ground
  • Alyseka: Also Abandoned After The Earthquake
  • See: Inundated Cabins In the Marsh Areas

Today one can still see some of the inundated cabins in the marshy areas into which the city formerly extended.

Next: 20 American Ghost Towns You Should Visit (But Not Alone)