Wed, July 10, 2013

Remembering Kaguyak

By Anjuli Grantham
“That’s what I was doing. I was taking a banya.” Sally Carlough related her story of surviving the 1964 earthquake and tsunami in the village of Kaguyak to a class of middle school and high school students last month. The students were enrolled in a two-week history and film intensive, during which they researched, shot, and edited their own mini-films about the history of the Good Friday Earthquake and Tsunami in the Kodiak Archipelago.

Alutiiq elder Sally Carlough shares her memories of surviving the
destruction of Kaguyak. She is now a proud grandmother and great
grandmother. Image courtesy Kodiak Historical Society.

Sally turned seventy the day she came to speak to the class. It was nearly fifty years ago that she was in that banya with her one year old daughter, Diane. When the world started shaking, she quickly dressed and ran from the sweat bath. She remembered looking up behind her and seeing a wave towering overhead. As she dashed up the snowy hill behind Kaguyak on the south end of Kodiak Island, she saw as the tide rose higher and higher behind her. Her cousin, Joe Melovedoff, had a radio transmitter and quickly issued a warning to the village of Old Harbor, thirty miles away. This warning certainly saved lives in Old Harbor.
Several tidal waves struck Kaguyak that evening, measuring between thirty and fifty feet high. In between waves, village men attempted to salvage supplies from houses and move skiffs and boats to safety. In the process Nick Zeedar and the village chief, Simmie Alexandroff, drowned. A young couple from Outside happened to be hiking in the vicinity, and the husband (ironically a geologist) also died at Kaguyak that day.
Sally’s father, Walter Melovedoff, was a reader in Kaguyak’s Russian Orthodox church. Candles were salvaged from the church, and the icons that had been hastily grabbed from houses were held up. In the snow, the thirty-or-so villagers held a service, praying for the waves to stop.

One of the very few photos that exist of Kaguyak, depicting a family
waiting for a flight to Kodiak in the 1950s. Image courtesy Kodiak
Historical Society, P 734-14.

In the morning, Kaguyak villagers saw that only three houses in the village were left standing. The newly constructed church was completely swept away. Aside from some blankets and clothing, most everyone lost all of their possessions. The village wells were filled with salt water due to the subsidence caused from the earthquake. The Bureau of Indian Affairs transported the villagers from Kodiak to Anchorage. There, it was decided that moving back to Kaguyak would not be possible. Instead, some villagers elected to move to the nearby village of Akhiok.
Today, very few pictures remain of the historic village of Kaguyak. “We lost everything,” Sally emphasized, and this is likely why Kodiak museums only have two photos of the village in their collections, combined. Once an important trading center for the fur trade, now it is a geographic feature on maps of Kodiak and the home village for a handful of Alutiiq elders. Yet, Sally sharing her story with Kodiak youth helps to keep the memory of the abandoned village alive. “You must learn to survive,” Sally told the students, after describing her experience. “Know what plants to eat. Know how to survive in an emergency.”