Written By: Ben Cosgrove

When the Great Alaska Earthquake convulsed the south-central region of that vast state on March 27, 1964, the energy released by the upheaval— the largest quake in recorded North American history—was, LIFE magazine reported, “400 times the total [energy] of all nuclear bombs ever exploded” until that time. The event unleashed a colossal 200,000 megatons of energy, destroying buildings and infrastructure in Anchorage and far beyond; raising the land as much as 30 feet in some places; and sparking a major underwater landslide in Prince William Sound, which killed scores of people when the resulting waves slammed into Port Valdez.

When all was said and done, the 9.2-magnitude quake—which struck around 5:30 in the evening on Good Friday—and its many powerful aftershocks caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage; killed more than 130 people (including more than a dozen tsunami-related deaths in Oregon and California) and; in ways literal and figurative, forever altered the Alaskan landscape in places such as Anchorage, Seward and Valdez.

Here, LIFE.com presents photos—many of them never published in LIFE—from the cataclysm’s aftermath.

Liz Ronk edited this gallery for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.

Anchorage, Alaska, in the aftermath of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake.

Anchorage, Alaska, in the aftermath of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake.

Bill Ray The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

The earthquake split the Turnagain section of Anchorage with a criss-cross of deep fissures in the ground, heaving the smashed homes up at crazy angles.

The earthquake split the Turnagain section of Anchorage with a criss-cross of deep fissures in the ground, heaving the smashed homes up at crazy angles.

Bill Ray The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Aftermath of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.

Aftermath of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.

Stan Wayman The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Aftermath of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.

Aftermath of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.

Bill Ray The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Aftermath of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.

Aftermath of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.

Stan Wayman The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Alaskans pray after the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake.

Alaskans prayed after the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake.

Bill Ray The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Ben Henry, 10, sits on bowling-game table in Anchorage American Legion Hall as his sister Genevieve sleeps by pins. Everything in their house was destroyed.

Ben Henry, 10, sat on bowling-game table in the Anchorage American Legion Hall as his sister Genevieve slept by the pins. Everything in their house was destroyed.

Bill Ray The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

People receiving medical treatment after the March 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.

People received medical treatment after the March 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.

Bill Ray The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

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Alaska earthquake, 1964.

Bill Ray The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

After the March 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.

After the March 1964 Good Friday earthquake, Alaska.

Bill Ray The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Unloading relief supplies after the March 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.

Relief supplies were unloaded after the March 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.

Bill Ray The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

After the March 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.

After the March 1964 Good Friday earthquake, Alaska.

Stan Wayman The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

After the March 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.

After the March 1964 Good Friday earthquake, Alaska.

Bill Ray The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

After the March 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.

After the March 1964 Good Friday earthquake, Alaska.

Stan Wayman The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

After the March 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.

After the March 1964 Good Friday earthquake, Alaska.

Stan Wayman The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

After the March 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.

After the March 1964 Good Friday earthquake, Alaska.

Bill Ray The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

After the March 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.

After the March 1964 Good Friday earthquake, Alaska.

Bill Ray The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

After the March 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, Alaska.

After the March 1964 Good Friday earthquake, Alaska.

Stan Wayman The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

In downtown Anchorage, the buildings and the pavement dropped 20 feet, dividing Fourth Avenue into two levels and leaving a weird jumble of signs.

In downtown Anchorage, the buildings and the pavement dropped 20 feet, dividing Fourth Avenue into two levels and leaving a weird jumble of signs.

Stan Wayman The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

LIFE Magazine April 10, 1964

Cover of LIFE Magazine April 10, 1964

LIFE Magazine

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