Coastline on Afognak Island. Courtesy Poppy Benson, USFWS.
The tsunami created by the Good Friday Earthquake in 1964 decimated the village of Afognak, home to about 200 residents. Many residents, most of whom were Alutiiq, rebuilt in a new community on Kodiak named Port Lions. Some moved to the city of Kodiak, other Alaskan communities, or to the Lower 48. The Nelson family, however, stayed on Afognak.
The house Betty and Abner Nelson lived in survived the tsunami, and the family stayed there until 1966. More than five decades later, Mike Carbone is in the process of restoring the Nelson home to its former glory.
Carbone was looking for somewhere he could live off the grid and subsist from the land. When he heard the story about the Nelsons’ house, he couldn’t believe it. It became a passion project for him to restore the home. Though Betty has since passed away, Carbone spent years talking with her while working on the details of purchasing the property. “We became…very good friends,” Carbone says.
Once he purchased it, Carbone got to work gutting pieces of the interior that needed to be replaced. He put in new walls, floors, plumbing, and electric wiring. The house’s frame and cedar exterior were still in good shape. He hopes to keep the house as close to the original as possible.
“Betty was very loved and well respected across our community, and the restoration of her home will likely warm the hearts of many with memories of time spent together over the years,” says Malia Villegas, a tribal council member for the Native Village of Afognak.
Carbone says he’s glad to be able to keep alive a small piece of history from the village. “I feel kind of proud to be preserving it,” Carbone says.