“There are moments when the world we take for granted instantaneously changes, reality is abruptly upended, and the unimaginable overwhelms real life. We don’t walk around thinking about that instability, but we know it’s always there. At random and without warning, a kind of terrible magic can switch on and scramble our lives. You may know the feeling.”
Those are the opening thoughts in the podcast, Genie Chance and the Great Alaska Earthquake.
The story from the New York Daily is about the unpredictable power of nature and how, in a matter of minutes, it can inflict trauma and even death. This is what happened on Friday, March 27, 1964, around 5:36 in the evening, when the biggest earthquake recorded in North America shook the small pioneering town of Anchorage, Alaska, destroying both property and lives in a dramatic four-and-a-half minutes.
But this story is also about people and how, as one research sociologist stated, “In ordinary life, we suffer alone. Any struggle, any pain winds up isolating us from other people or even making us resentful of everybody else, who seem to somehow have it easier. But in a disaster, an entire community suffers together. Trauma and even death, the stuff that we suppress in daily life, spills out as a public phenomenon for everyone to see. The present becomes all-consuming. The past and the future fall away. And all those who share in the experience, are brought together in a very powerful, psychological sense.”
And above all, this is the story of a single woman who, with her voice over the radio, held an entire community together, and who’s courage at the time of the disaster, despite the personal drama that tortured her life, provided a sense of calm.
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Genie Chance, at 37-years old, was strikingly beautiful, with short, wavy blond hair and high-cut bangs. She grew up in a small town in Texas, where she had met her husband and had three children. However, Genie suffering from verbal abuse from her husband and financial difficulty, struggled to keep her family together. Her husband, Winston, a used car salesman who spent more money than he earned, moved the family to Alaska to take advantage of the oil boom’s new opportunities. Once in Alaska, and still facing financial difficulties, Genie applied and was hired at KENI, the local radio station, and began making a name for herself as a reporter.
At the time, women broadcasters typically covered fashion and homemaking or hosted on-air recipe swaps. But in her year and a half at the station, Genie had forged a role for herself as a diligent roving reporter. She covered crime, the courts, and city hall. She reported from crab boats and missile sites, burning buildings and Inuit villages, and sled dog races.
With snow falling and roads crumbling, Genie watched as the entire front of the newly constructed J.C. Penny store fell away from the building and on to the street, exposing the interior like a toy dollhouse. She found herself thrust into the center of the devastating earthquake. Microphone in hand, Genie began broadcasting from her mobile unit at the public safety building and remained on the air for over 13 hours. She gave safety instructions and information about road closures and directed both public and private citizens to areas throughout the community that needed emergency supplies, manpower, and equipment to help with the search and rescue operation. She also delivered messages to families from loved one’s that had been separated. Her voice, which was picked up by other radio stations and rebroadcast around the country and the world, was reassuring and calming and held the community together.
The job that Genie did during the Alaska’s earthquake was very important for the community, at a time of stress and desperation. Today we are going through similar uncertain times caused by the coronavirus. Innova Technologies hopes that our community and all around the world stay healthy and safe as our cities begin to open up and while we wait to find a vaccine to save us from this awful disease. Let’s join forces by wearing facemasks and cleaning our hands, as simple habits of civility and social awareness.