OUZINKIE MAN WAS CALM VOICE ON TSUNAMI WATCH
Maybe you just woke up to check the time. Or maybe your phone alarm went off and you saw the earthquake alert some time after 12:32 am on Tuesday.
Or maybe you were knocked out of bed by the rocker of an earthquake that rolled Alaska in the dark of the morning for the longest two minutes of the year. Maybe your house creaked loudly and you popped up with a start. The earthquake was felt strongly in Wasilla and as far as Haines, Alaska.
Back in the day, you might have turned on your ham radio and sought a signal and the voice of pioneer broadcaster Augie Hiebert.
Today, you scrolled to your Facebook feed and looked for live information about the tsunami that was warned to be now heading toward the coast.
And that’s when you discovered Larry on Spruce Island, near Kodiak Island.
You and more than 100,000 other people stayed up through the night watching Larry Pestrikoff’s live video feed on Facebook as he pointed his camera at the Ouzinkie Harbor and the dock lights, and waited. And waited.
It was dark. You could barely make out anything. This is what you saw, although with a handheld camera, it moved a bit, naturally:
Larry was watching from his window for the tsunami, but he wasn’t alone. He was joined online from folks in Australia, Hawaii, Florida, the Phillippines.
Larry was narrating, although admittedly there was nothing much to narrate and as the morning wore on, it seemed less likely a wave of any sort would hit.
Larry answered questions in real time as viewers posted them. He read his tide table. The tide was low. He put on his night vision goggles. He listened to the radio. He checked on his cat. He filmed a helicopter going by. The tsunami alarm in the hamlet sounded for the second time in the morning, and for what seemed an eternity.
Larry was ready — he had his heavy clothes on, gloves in his pocket. And he kept his camera pointed at the harbor. One simply doesn’t go back to sleep in a tsunami-prone place like Spruce Island. There is no safety net in such a place; people are pretty much on their own.
Ouzinke is a small Russian-Aleut heritage village 12 miles north of the city of Kodiak, near Afognak and Port Lions. A fishing village with a small harbor, it is home to about 160 people.
Larry’s house is about 40 feet above the water and there is a hill behind him, so he felt he had a safe retreat. The cat-carrying case was ready.
People in Kodiak and the islands around the Gulf of Alaska take their earthquakes seriously. The region was hit by a tsunami on March 27, 1964, and folks still remember the destruction. Some 20 Alaskans died during that tsunami on Kodiak, including five men aboard a fishing boat heading toward Ouzinkie.
But Larry was staying put. The village is mainly boardwalks along a waterfront and there was no real way to evacuate other than walking up the hill in the pitch black of the night.
“I’m pretty high up so I’m not too worried, so if it does start rising above our dock here, I’m going up the hill right behind me,” Larry said to the world audience. But it was cold outside and he seemed none too eager to leave.
Fox News contacted him and wanted to use his footage. That made him chuckle.
“Fox News can … Not CNN or NBC or MSNBC, but Fox News can. Maybe Donald Trump’s watching. Hello Mr. President,” Larry said stoically.
Although 15 minutes into the recording there was still nothing to see, the viewers kept coming. More than 115,000 in all came and went through the night with the Native Alaskan, listening to his raw and authentic commentary in the dark of a cold January night on a remote island in the Gulf of Alaska.
“I see people are here from everywhere, it’s amazing,” he said, as viewers arrived. There were people from Nome. Nat Herz, a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, popped in. Alaska Rep. Charisse Millett was watching.
The narration to his audience was soft, calm, and hypnotizing. Many, including this viewer, went back to sleep to the voice of Larry Pestrikoff.
By the end of the broadcast, some two hours later, Larry went from having 69 Facebook friends to more than 400. He was ready to finish watching his Netflix movie that was interrupted, and then head to bed.
And the wave? It never came. But the earthquake put the remote fishing village of Ouzinke, Spruce Island, and Larry Pestrikoff on the map, if only for one long, strange night in January.