Archive for the ‘Oregon Quakes’ Category

The following items are derived from a phone conversation I recently had with James Roddey, public relations head for the Department of Oregon Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI), and most of the quotes are from Roddey:

Seawalls and Japan: Building seawalls along the coast has the danger of giving citizens behind the seawall a false sense of security. If the seawalls aren’t built high enough, they will do little good. No one in Japan expected a 1,000-year event to happen off their northeastern coast. An 8.1 earthquake had been forecast as the maximum for the area, and a 7.5 at the Fukushima plant. We’ve learned about the cost of that underestimation.

Chile: The difference between Japan’s subduction zone tsunami and the one in Chile in February 2010 is that in Chile, there were no seawalls, and no warning systems to sound the tsunami alarm. The tsunami that hit Chile was somewhat smaller than the one that hit Japan. But more importantly, Chile had a different style of building: using concrete, with deep foundations anchored into the ground. In Japan, the homes and other buildings were generally not built to sustain tsunami damage. Many wood-frame houses were broken off their bases by the tsunami: without an anchor in the ground, the homes were carried off by the rushing waters. Also, in Chile, people knew exactly what to do after their earthquake: the people had grown up hearing scary stories of the 1964 quake and tsunami. They knew not to wait for an announcement or an evacuation order from the authorities: they just dropped everything and ran inland.

Oblivion and ignorance and denial: Roddey said the basic problem he faces in getting out the word about the earthquake danger is that “we don’t get a lot of earthquakes of sizable magnitude, and so people are oblivious to the danger.” So, agencies are focusing on a tsunami outreach and education program for coastal dwellers. (Check this website to see how busy Roddey is with events on the coast.) He said people on the coast are much better prepared than they used to be, but many communities are still in denial.

The media—including Portland tv stations and papers like the Oregonian—is really good at getting the word out, but most of the stories are background noise. You have to try to convince people that the danger is there. It is: there have been 40 large subduction zone quakes in the last 10,000 years. That’s an average of one every 250 years: the last one happened in 1700. Draw your own conclusions.

Roddey said a lot of places on the coast are woefully unprepared. He gets, with alarming frequency, angry calls from hotel and motel owners asking him, “Why are you doing this? You’re hurting our business! No one’s going to come to the coast if you scare them off!” His counter to that “bottom line” argument is that the hotels and motels simply need to get prepared, and they can make their preparedness a selling point for their tourist guests by being able to say, “You’ll be safe here, our place is rock solid.”

The Oregon coast: On the coast, there are 50,000 people living in the expected inundation zone for a subduction zone tsunami. Another 250,000 people are in state parks in the summer, during tourist season, and would be vulnerable to a tsunami. A lot of coastal communities are very vulnerable to a tsunami, with flat terrain and no easy evacuation route. They include Seaside, Gearhart, and Warrenton.

The Washington coast sirens: Washington’s Emergency Management Division has central control of a network of sirens along its coast. That is, when someone at their head quarters sees an earthquake off the coast, he can press a button and make all the sirens on the coast sound the alarm.

The Oregon coast sirens: The sirens on the Oregon coast are not centrally controlled. They’re an ad hoc response built and managed by individual municipalities. They don’t have good coverage; they’re activated locally, on a piecemeal basis. And, some of the sirens may not work when needed. So, sirens, like seawalls, give people a false sense of security.

The sirens are really only good for warning about a tsunami that’s begun a long ways away. People need to know that this kind of warning gives you lots of time to head inland, and the tsunami probably will not be a big event. 99% of people on the coast would not need to evacuate for a distant tsunami.

The really deadly tsunami, the one people on the Northwest coast have to prepare for, is one that will happen locally. If a tsunami starts near the coast, you’ll need to take the initiative and not wait for a siren to tell you what to do.

NOAA radios: As the above indicates, instead of relying on sirens, tv or regular radio, you should use NOAA weather radios to keep yourself informed in a disaster.

Portland earthquakes: There are three known major faults in the Portland area. The apparent recurrence period for large earthquakes on the faults is once every 2500 years. And, the experts think the faults can produce at most a 6.5 magnitude quake. The Portland hills fault slipped 10,000 years ago. But, keep in mind that these figures are based on a sliver of evidence, one or two trenches dug in a parking lot or highway construction site. You shouldn’t think that these are fail-safe assurances of safety and that no bad earthquakes can happen in and around Portland.

Tsunami damage around Brookings and Oregon’s south coast: The Japan tsunami did $25 million of damage to the port at Brookings, quite a bit of damage at Gold Beach, a little bit at Port Orford, and a minuscule amount as far north as Depoe Bay. The Brookings area was hit so hard because the oceanic shelf is much shallower around Brookings. It funnels the wave into a smaller area and lets it build up as it hits the coast. For an analogy on land, think of how the Colorado River or Rouge River turn into whitewater rapids in places where the river channel narrows and the terrain drops sharply. Pretty much the same thing happens as the ocean floor turns up toward the coast. When a tsunami comes along, it surges into the narrow, rising funnel near shore and hits the shore with more violence because all that water has to squeeze into a much smaller area.


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Up until 1993, Oregon had escaped any extremely damaging earthquakes in the nearly 150 years since it had become one of the united states. Yet it, like the rest of the West Coast, has been in earthquake country throughout its history. This post gathers together a few brief accounts from the Oregonian of four quakes that made it into the paper from 1873 to 1976.

On February 4, 1892, a roughly 5.6 magnitude quake happened in Portland:

A very perceptible earthquake shock was felt in this city at 8:30 last evening. The course of the movement was about from northeast to southwest and it lasted about five seconds The room occupied by the OREGONIAN reporters, seemed to move horizontally two or three inches and back, without any trembling or upward movement. Those sitting at their desks felt and saw the movement but those who were moving about did not notice it and laughed at the idea of there having been an earthquake. The compositors in the basement did not notice any movement.

In a minute or so telephone messages began to arrive inquiring if the earthquake had been felt. . . . One young man said the motion made him very sick at the stomach. Another said the billiard balls had been rolled off the tables at the Metropolitan. . . .

The fact is that the shock was one of the most gentle imaginable, and neither scared nor hurt anyone, and was over before anyone fairly realized what it was.

At the United States weather bureau nothing official could be learned regarding the earthquake. A reporter was told that the bureau had no instrument capable of registering the duration of the shock or its direction.

On Portland Heights the shock was particularly severe. Buildings rock and wind and crockery rattled, and people rushed pell mell into the street. The shock appeared to be from northeast to southwest.

The quake was felt at least from Astoria to Salem, and from Forest Grove to Kalama.

On November 23, 1873, there had been another quake, in southern Oregon. It was about a 6.3, with an epicenter well off the coast. From the Oregonian:

Perturbation in Southern Oregon
Jacksonville—A very severe shock of earthquake was felt here last evening at 9:12 o’clock. The shock was quite violent, lasting about twenty seconds, and appearing to be nearly in a northerly and southerly direction. No damage was done, but much alarm was created as it was the first shock ever felt in this place. . . .

Roseburg—At 9 P.M. yesterday . . . buildings were observed to tremble simultaneously over all parts of the town, and that particular roaring was also heard which inevitable accompanies earthquakes. It lasted at least twenty seconds and came from the southwest. . . .

The weather is now clear and warm like summer.

On the evening of December 16, 1953, a medium-sized 5.6 quake hit the Portland area again, and yielded this item from the Associated Press:

Vancouver, Wash. (AP)–The Clark junior college choir was appearing in concert here Tuesday night when the earthquake shook the area.
It hastily vacated the bleacher-type platform on which it was standing. The group had just sung “The Cherry Tree Carol,” the last line of which goes: “When the stars in their element tremble with glee”

But even in the Oregonian this local quake was overshadowed because, as noted in an item above the AP report, “a series of small earthquakes was felt over sections of northern and central California Wednesday.”

Finally, on April 12, 1976, the Oregonian reported on another medium-sized quake near Maupin, between the Columbia and Bend:
“An [4.8] earthquake centered 35 miles south of The Dalles rattled dishes and windows throughout Central Oregon shortly before 5 p.m. Monday. . . . It carried a force strong enough to topple chimneys and throw objects from shelves. . . No injuries or major damage were reported.”

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The initial 7.2 quake on April 25, late on a spring Saturday morning, happened at the very southern edge of the Northwest seismic zone, where the Gorda Plate meets the North American Plate and the San Andreas Fault goes out to sea: the Pacific Plate edging up against the two other plates makes it a triple junction known as the Mendocino Fault Zone. Early the next morning, a magnitude 6.5 earthquake hit the same area, and then a 6.7 quake hit a few hours later; a series of relatively small aftershocks followed in the ensuring days. The USGS describes the series as the Cape Mendocino earthquakes. This is from the Sacramento Bee of April 26:

In Ferndale, the 140-year-old town was celebrating its first Best of the West festival when the quake hit, crumbling the brick facades of buildings and panicking hundreds who were watching a parade along Main Street.

Police estimated 80 percent of the downtown buildings in the town of about 1,400 were damaged, along with 15 homes knocked off their foundations.

“We’re used to these, but this one was worse than any I’ve seen before,” said Marlin Mesman, owner of the Golden Gait mercantile store. “They were going up the front door and one woman fell down, and another stepped right on her back and kept going because it was ‘Panic City.’”

In Rio Dell, a town of about 3,750, more than two-thirds of the window fronts along the main street were shattered.

Jim and Cindy Rich had just opened their restaurant, the Pizza Factory, when the quake hit. It destroyed a 55-gallon aquarium, broke the legs on a 5,000-pound refrigerator and knocked Jim Rich down.

“I never had one knock me down before,” Rich said. “I’m a native Californian and have been in quakes before. That scared me. I thought I was in the big one.”

The quake was arbitrary in its infliction of damage. While much of downtown Rio Dell was trashed, there was little apparent damage in Scotia, a town of about 1,200 just across the Eel River. Stacks of lumber at the huge Scotia mill remained undisturbed.

In Ferndale, the quake shook up the first Best of the West Day, which was meant to celebrate the town’s claim to being the town farthest west in the lower 48 states.

About 300 people had lined the street for a horse parade that was ending as the quake hit, and dozens of others were poking through antique shops and bookstores in the 100 year old buildings that line the main thoroughfare.

“They were ashen-faced and just scared to death,” said store owner Marlin Mesman. One woman said, “That’s the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen.”

Richard DeGroot, a 45 year old Seattle businessman, was in town to visit his sister before she underwent cancer surgery. He and his family were sitting at table in the Palace Bar when things started to shake.

“Some guy shouted, ‘Get out into the street!’” he said from a hospital bed in Fortuna. “I headed out, and I thought everybody was right behind me. Thank goodness they weren’t.”

DeGroot was hit by hundreds of bricks from the building’s facade as he fled through the door, badly breaking one leg and both feet.

“If I had been two feet back,” he said, “I wouldn’t be here now.”

The age of many of Ferndale’s buildings may have saved them.
Many residents said they don’t carry earthquake insurance because the area’s frequent quakes make premiums too expensive. But Frank Shunk wishes he had.

Shunk’s 100 year old Victorian home, which he had just finished remodeling, was flung nearly 15 feet toward the street and eight feet to one side. His stepson, Daniel, 15, was on the second floor playing a video game when the temblor struck. When the planks in the wooden flooring snapped upward and pinned the front door shut, Daniel was forced to leap to the sidewalk.

“He jumped out the window,” said Matt McKenzie, Daniel’s 17 year old brother. “But it used to be 10 feet higher.”

The jolt knocked both units of PG&E’s Humboldt Bay fossil-fuel plant off-line, although it was being brought back on line Saturday evening. Utility officials said there was no damage to the mothballed nuclear plant nearby.

The initial, 7.2 quake set a fire caused by a broken gas main, which destroyed much of the business district of Scotia. A firefighter said: “This is our town right here and now it’s gone.”

On Monday, the 27th, the San Jose Mercury News told the story of the ongoing toll of the quakes:

The terror of aftershocks has faded to fatigue as shaken residents of the Lost Coast region warily tackle cleanup efforts in the wake of a major earthquake and powerful aftershocks.

”If I knew there wasn’t going to be another earthquake, I would work my butt off and clean everything up. But you don’t know,” said Scotia Inn owner Hillori Carley.

The aftershocks Sunday came like a one-two punch on top of Saturday’s 6.9 temblor.

The quakes touched off fires that burned down the center of Scotia, and knocked out power and phone service to areas of Humboldt County. State officials said National Guard units trucked in drinking water to the four towns hardest hit by the quakes.

The initial strong shock — which snapped water mains and hampered firefighting efforts — was followed at 4:18 a.m. by a magnitude 6.5 quake that rattled homes as far south as Aptos and Fresno, capping a tumultuous weekend in this picturesque coastal community where timber is king.

Damage from the quakes was estimated at $47 million — $27 million to homes and businesses, and $20 million to roads and bridges, according to Humboldt County Sheriff David A. Renner.

Local hospitals treated 94 people for injuries over the weekend, among them four firefighters suffering from smoke inhalation. Twelve people were admitted. There were no reports of deaths.

Rio Dell building inspector Marc Phippen estimated 25 homes and 10 businesses in the town of 3,000 are uninhabitable. At the Rio Dell Bowl, assistant manager Rita Ruff kept her sense of humor about the damaged bowling alley, saying, “They wanted a face lift, but this wasn’t the way to do it.”

”People are fatigued,” said Stan Dixon, chairman of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors. “They’re beginning to realize the extent of the damage. We’ve got some mental health counselors for people who need it. It’s beginning to sink in now, and a lot of people are beginning to hurt.”

Residents were prepared for aftershocks from Saturday’s 6.9 earthquake, but few were ready for the ferocity of the early morning jolts that left people sleepless, edgy and worried the worst was not over.

In Petrolia, the post office and several other buildings burned to the ground, and a number of houses were damaged.

In Ferndale, a town of Victorian-style buildings 10 miles northwest of Scotia, residents said the pre-dawn aftershocks seemed to move up and down, rather than side to side like the motion of Saturday’s tremor.

”It was like someone picked up my house, pushed it forward and dropped it,” said Danielle Gyurik, 29, whose bed-and- breakfast is located in the town’s third-oldest house.

Artist Hobart Brown returned home Sunday to find about $50,000 in damage to the metal sculptures he makes and the other art he sells at his gallery in downtown Ferndale.

The quakes frightened some people so much they stayed out of their houses Sunday night. “You know there are some 3’s and 4’s (on the Richter scale) coming,” said Sandra Messman. “That’s why no one is going into the buildings.” Messman slept in a camper parked outside her store. Other people set up tents in their front yards.

It was much the same in Fortuna.

”I’ve lived here all my life and been through the floods, but I ain’t seen nothing like this,” said Lisa Tarelli, as she swept up the glass at a Fortuna grocery after the first big aftershock.

”Everything we had picked up Saturday was back on the floor today,” said Sondra Kirtley, whose family has operated an auto parts store in Fortuna for 24 years. “The first earthquake seemed to really kind of roll. But (Sunday’s first) quake was more of a sharp jolt. Everybody’s tired. Everybody’s weary. I don’t think a lot of people got a lot of sleep last night.”

At the same time, the San Francisco Chronicle noted that that “over a frightening weekend only last August [of 1991], several sharp quakes jolted the area. One hit just south of Cape Mendocino with a magnitude of 6, while others on the Gorda Plate offshore from Eureka registered magnitudes as high as 6.9.”

Just a few months earlier, at the start of 1992, David Perlman of the Chronicle had noted the threat of a much stronger earthquake off the coast:

Geologists probing the restless earth along the Humboldt County coast near Eureka have discovered the strongest evidence yet that truly monstrous earthquakes have rocked the Northwest in the past — and could strike again.

In the Northwest off the Pacific Coast, a large segment of Earth’s crust called the Gorda Plate and an even larger one called the Juan de Fuca Plate are thrusting themselves beneath the North American continent in an inexorable process called subduction. The entire region, stretching northward from the so-called “Mendocino Triple Junction” where the San Andreas Fault swings westward into the Pacific, is known as the Cascadia subduction zone.

As the massive crustal plates of the zone grind their way downward under the western margin of the continental plate tens of miles offshore, they push eastward beneath the land as well. The moving slabs may slide imperceptibly for hundreds of years, then lock tight for a period while strain builds up, and then jolt suddenly into motion again.

Similar processes are at work in many regions of the world — off Japan, Alaska and the coast of South America. They generate deadly volcanic eruptions and raise up mountains as high as the Andes over millions of years.

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In the wake of the massive subduction zone earthquake and tsunami emanating from off the east coast of Japan’s Honshu island, it’s important to remember the damage to the Northwest caused by the 1964 tsunami following the Good Friday earthquake on March 27, 1964. And, to keep in mind that much worse will happen if a coastal subduction zone quake happens here. After a 2005 tsunami scare in Crescent City, California, the San Francisco Chronicle reported from the town:

Over coffee at Glen’s, Bill Parker, Del Norte County’s former volunteer director of civil defense, recalled what he was doing the night of March 27, 1964, when a magnitude 9.2 quake off Alaska sent a series of terrible waves to Crescent City.

A mortician, Parker had been doing business in Brookings, Ore., when he got a call from the police. He hitchhiked back south with a driver who was stinking drunk. The next morning, he called the governor’s office and reported, “Crescent City is gone.”

About 150 buildings were destroyed or damaged. Boats were beached, and trailers were pulled into the sea.

“Cars were strewn everywhere,” recalled Sandy Nuss. “There were motels and houses in the middle of the street. The water rushed through the appliance store, and when it receded there were washers and dryers and refrigerators all over the place. It was a real mess.”

Nuss, a 67-year-old researcher at the Del Norte County Historical Society, said she had watched the tsunami from her home, inland and uphill from the coast.

“People saw the harbor go dry, and no one knew what it meant then,” she said. “Everyone knows what it means now.”

M.D. McGuire, 81, said he had responded to the first wave by driving to the harbor to see if his fishing boat was still there. He stopped by the Long Branch Tavern to buy cigarettes. Soon, the second wave came and his pickup was carried off by the flow.

When the water crashed through the tavern, McGuire and the bar owner’s son, Gary Clawson, moved several people to the roof. Then the two men swam to high ground, got McGuire’s rowboat and had a friend tow it back to town.

Clawson picked up five people from the tavern roof, including his mother, father and fiancée. But before they could make it to safety, the boat was pulled into a culvert, and only Clawson escaped.

When McGuire showed a reporter the culvert Wednesday, he had to pause to collect himself.

In November 2006, when an 8.1 earthquake off the Japan coast created a tsunami that did more damage to Crescent City, Glen Martin of the San Francisco Chronicle reported on the scene, and added some notes on the 1964 tsunami:

A tsunami generated by a powerful undersea earthquake near Japan struck the small Northern California fishing port of Crescent City on Wednesday, destroying docks, sinking a boat and fraying nerves.

Bill Steven, a commander with the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Department, said the tsunami was “more a series of big surges rather than waves,” but he said the damage to the town’s harbor was significant.

The surges were reported at 5 to 6 feet high.

“The water surged back and forth like a river, and our docks aren’t designed to handle swift water,” Steven said. “About 50 percent of the harbor was affected. There’s a lot of torn-up foam, wood and concrete. We know at least one boat was sunk, and we had to round up about 12 more that were torn from their moorings.”

Steven said no fatalities or injuries were reported.

Crescent City residents are particularly sensitive to tsunami threats. The town was struck by a 21-foot-high tsunami in 1964 that killed 11 people and destroyed most of the town center.

Steven said Del Norte County officials received a notification from the National Weather Service on Wednesday morning that a 3- to 5-foot surge resulting from an 8.1 magnitude quake near Japan would hit the Crescent City region about 11:40 a.m.

“We did have a very small surge at that time, and then everybody went back to business as usual,” Steven said.

Then around 2:30, Steven said, residents noticed an ominous sign — water started running out of the town’s harbor, a classic indication of an approaching tsunami.

“You don’t like to see that,” Steven said. “It looked like a very fast river.”

But instead of a large wave, Steven said, the tsunami was manifested as another large surge flowing back into the harbor.

“It went on like that until about 5 p.m., maybe later,” Steven said. “Just like a big river surging back and forth. It really hammered our docks. Pieces had to be tied off, whole sections disappeared.”

Harbormaster Richard Young, who described the event as a “river within the ocean,” estimated the damage to the docks and boats at around $700,000.

Steven said the surges came at a particularly inopportune time for the close-knit, isolated fishing community.

“Everybody was just getting warmed up for the Dungeness crab season,” he said. “Unfortunately, this could really slow things down.”

Steven, who was born the year after the killer waves hit the town in 1964, said his father often reminisced about the event.

“He was especially amazed by the tremendous field of debris it left,” he said. “It’s still a major topic of conversation in this town.”

In the immediate aftermath of the December 26, 2004 earthquake and tsunami off the Indonesia coast, Richard Eisner, coastal administrative chief for the California Office of Emergency Services, issued this warning in a San Francisco Chronicle article:

Eisner urged Californians to remember one of the ghastly lessons of the Crescent City tsunami of 1964, when 11 people died after the coastal town in Del Norte County was clobbered by a wave triggered by a mega-quake in distant Alaska. That lesson is this: The worst wave is not necessarily the first wave that hits the shore.

Tsunami waves tend to come in multiples — like multiple ripples on a pond after you toss a stone into it. Worse, the second wave often carries debris sucked to sea by the first wave.

“In Crescent City in 1964,” Eisner noted, “most of those who perished perished because they assumed the tsunami was over (after the first wave, and said), ‘Let’s go take a look.’ The second wave came in — these waves move 20 to 30 mph, you can’t outrun it — and the water doesn’t have to be very deep with those velocities to run you down, and you’re battered by debris and you’re battered into buildings.”

Finally, in a March 2005 review of The Raging Sea, a book by Dennis M. Powers that describes the tsunami, Robert Krier of the San Diego Union-Tribune quoted from the book:

The description of two men fishing in a river near the shore gives a good idea of the shock and horror one might feel upon seeing an approaching tsunami:

“Suddenly, a loud crash that sounded ‘like a cannon shot’ cracked through the air.

“Jerking their heads toward the sound, they froze at the sight of a twelve-foot wall of water bearing down on them in the moonlight. It then stood poised overhead, as if a film had stopped mid-show. The bulging wave’s white crest held captive huge logs and driftwood that protruded from it like a crown of thorns.

“The churning ocean crashed over the two men, as the wave pounded into them and up the river. The rampaging currents buffeted their bodies, twisting them savagely, head over heels. They reached instinctively for anything to grab onto, desperately trying to work their way back to the surface.”

The waves pushed the men two miles inland. One of the two survived the scramble, due largely to the heroic efforts of his friend, who was later swept out to sea and drowned when the waters retreated in an equally frightening pullback.

Powers quotes a father of four who was camping with his family on a beach nearby.

“We were awakened shortly after 11 o’clock by a small wave. … We grabbed the kids. But then came huge waves — battering waves. We were completely helpless. I had two of the kids by the hand, but I have no idea what happened. Nobody had a chance.”

All four of the man’s children were killed.

The book closely follows the story of a group in the Long Branch Tavern. The owner and friends and relatives had returned to the bar after the first two small waves hit. When they found no damage, they celebrated their good fortune, plus the birthday of one member of the group. Five of the group later died in a mad scramble after the third and fourth waves hit.

That group’s survivors lived to tell gripping and heroic stories, filled with gut-wrenching twists, escapes and life-or-death, split-second decisions. Don’t be surprised if their tale hits the multiplex within a few years, now that tsunamis are on our minds.

Powers gives first-hand accounts of houses floating for blocks in the waves, with people trapped inside. He tells of others scrambling onto rooftops, clapping when the structures held; and of frantic drivers and passengers trapped in vehicles bobbing in the churning water. He describes the subsequent fires that compounded the calamity and created a scene out of “Dante’s Inferno.”

In a 2005 review of Powers’ book, David Campiche of the Daily Astorian discussed the ongoing threat:

It is hard to swallow the medicine spooned out in Dennis Powers’ “The Raging Sea,” a detailed account of the four waves that wiped out between 10 to 20 square miles of Crescent City, Calif., on Good Friday, 41 years ago.

Powers shares all. This 288-page account carefully recreates the jagged depictions of hundreds of lives affected by those monstrous waves. Many survived, often by acts of heroism, or more often through the sheer human will to survive. Indeed, there is hope in that, and in the fact that so many did survive and rebuild. Of course, there were the others who didn’t. One reads on and on, each page more than a recollection, each of poignant significance to oceanside earth dwellers.

Each page fills in the jags still empty in our current and fertile imagination. What actually happened on the beaches in Indonesia? How big were those waves anyway, 30 feet or 80? Like so many of the victims of the catastrophe, people were led by their curiosity right to the water’s edge, so they could watch the debacle unfold. Unfold it did. Most, who pushed too close, died violently.

Truth be told, the majority of human beings avoid too much bad news. We are surrounded by constant reminders of aberrant human behavior and Mother Nature posturing with all her might. We know that every day, human beings are dying in Iraq. Do we really need to read the newspaper each morning with the intention of gleaning specific facts? Some do, and some don’t.

It is for this specific reason that Powers’ book is drawn into the ebb of human emotions. The book will remain uncomfortable in the minds of many of its readers, particularly those endangered by the reality that waves do come, and regularly, in geological time.

In all fairness, the book performs a service: It anoints us with truth. The tsunami that reaped devastation of Crescent City was not remotely as devastating as the cataclysms that recently struck the beaches of the South Pacific and not remotely as devastating as the projected quake and subsequent waves that sooner or later will reap havoc on the Oregon and Washington beaches.

Are we listening? Are developers listening? One wonders if they have built their homes at the ocean’s edge, or retired to some safe outpost like Oaxaca or some other inland property.

Powers’ book is an important read. One can’t bluff 30-foot waves, can’t imagine 80-footers. Ignore the truth and it will come, anyway.

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I was actually out of town during the first quake [on September 20]. I recall driving back from the Lakeview area that night and hearing a radio report about an earthquake “near Medford.” So it was with quite a shock that in driving into Klamath Falls I couldn’t find a local radio station, noticed all the lights were off and realized the streets were nearly deserted. At home my dog was gone. He escaped and ran to a neighbor’s. On the way to get him I noticed families sleeping outside their homes.

The second quake [on December 4] was a Saturday afternoon. I knew what was happening immediately because I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, where quakes were fairly frequent. It seems like a wave rolled right up from my front yard through the living room and kitchen and then to the backyard. They say quakes last milli-seconds, but I remember getting out of my chair, walking to the front window, realizing that wasn’t a good place to be, then retreating. Then heading to the paper office because I knew I’d have stories to write.

Interestingly, some of the lingering effects are still being felt in the little town of Tulelake, just south of the Oregon-California state line. They are still trying to upgrade some facilities damaged in the quakes.

By Lee Juillerat

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This earthquake didn’t get much attention even at the time it happened: a 5.2 or 5.5 (the authorities differ) quake centered in east Vancouver, it struck at 7:37 on a Monday evening. Overshadowed by the big Columbus Day storm of mid-October, not to mention the Cuban missile crisis and the next day’s elections, the Oregonian reported it inflicted “no reported injuries or serious damage.” At the time, seismologists placed the epicenter south of Portland. The paper said “it lasted only a few seconds, in contrast with other jolts with less intensity but of longer duration which have caused widespread damage in the area.”

The Oregonian: “Buildings shook violently, dishes were knocked off shelves, bricks in chimneys tumbled to the ground and some lights went out . . . The jolt was felt at Dexter, east of Eugene. . . Seattle reported only a slight tremor.

“In Camas and Stevenson, Wash., near where last year’s earthquake was believed centered, residents said it was the sharpest jolt they had ever felt.”

There was the normal surge of calls after the quake, and power was briefly lost in the Hillsdale neighborhood. The paper said otherwise, “damage in Portland was confined to cracked walls, toppling dishes and falling chimney bricks.” A San Francisco advertising guy named Charles Bigelow who was in the Portland Public Service Building said, “It is not a typical quake. It should be preceded by a rumble. Your quakes are unorthodox.”

In 2002, Richard L. Hill of the Oregonian revisited this quake. Lou Clark, a geologist with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, said: “People were just shellshocked by the Columbus Day Storm, so the earthquake quickly was forgotten. Oregon at the time was considered a seismic desert, and earthquakes weren’t seen as much of a risk in the Portland area.

“The earthquake didn’t change building codes or anything like that, but it was an important event in that it made both Oregonians and the scientific community understand that the risk is real.

“I was by myself in the kitchen when things started shaking. I had no clue as to what was happening. I was too scared to move and too scared to scream. It didn’t last long, a few seconds, but it felt like five minutes.

“That earthquake is one of the reasons I’m a geologist now. It made a huge impression on me.”

Thomas Yelin, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey at the University of Washington, worked with seismologist Howard Patton of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and calculated that the quake was a magnitude 5.2, centered about 10 miles beneath the surface and nine miles northeast of downtown Portland.

Two days after the quake, with Oregon having re-elected Mark O. Hatfield as governor and elected Wayne Morse as U.S. senator, the Oregonian said: “Monday night’s violent, though brief tremor was one of a series [of earthquakes], each recalling to mind the fact that the ‘young’ mountains of the Pacific slope . . . are on the move. Monday night’s quake found us already conditioned to the sound of falling chimneys and to the light of candles. For it came less than a month after we were brushed by Typhoon Frieda’s swirling skirt. . . . We must agree that the loss of life has been providentially low. The daily routine has scarcely missed a beat. But we don’t have to like it. The wonder is that some people still complain about the soft Oregon rain.”

Basically, if the quake had been centered 50 or 100 miles to the east, it probably would have merited a couple paragraphs in the Oregonian and been entirely forgotten within a week. But, it’s possibly the biggest quake to hit the Portland-Vancouver area in the last century, or at least was before the ’93 Spring Break Quake. Look at a shake map for the quake, and the Oregonian’s front page on Nov. 6, ’62:

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If you have a particular interest in the history of Northwest earthquakes, you’ve probably heard of the North Cascades earthquake of 1872. However, a sequel on November 23, 1873 that registered about a 6.8 is less known. The epicenter is believed to have been inland, near the Oregon-California border, with damage centered on the Crescent City area. Read about the quake here. Two excerpts, one from the Crescent City Courier:

Happy camp was visited last night at quarter to nine by a violent shock of an earthquake, which is something unusual, as the oldest resident does not recollect of anything of that kind happening before. The shock lasted about 25 seconds and the rumbling noise accompanying the shock . . . .

The wooden buildings rocked to and fro very much, and the tin pails hung up in Messers. Camp & Co’s brick store swung backwards and forwards at an angle of nearly 45 degrees with the reeling for upwards of ten minutes after the shock. Messer’s Camp & Store is but one storey high and stoutly built or it would undoubtedly have fallen to the ground.

M. Cuddihy, Esq. says he was in San Francisco at one of what they call one of their heaviest shocks and says it did not compare with his at happy Camp for violence. He says, and everybody believes if a building here had been four or even three stories high built of brick or stone it certainly could not have withstood the shock, and must have fallen. It is said that there are several small cracks in Mr. Camp’s building, but we believe they are old cracks. We do not know of any other damage. The dogs howled and the horses got frightened in the fields, and ran at a fearful speed for a while, and the citizens looked pale and thunderstruck or rather earthquake struck. Some people here had never experienced an earthquake before, and will be perfectly satisfied if they never experienced another. I was in the upper story of M. Cuddahy’s Hotel and the building appeared to move to and fro about a foot. . . .

(A letter) From Port Orford: “The quiet of our town was somewhat disturbed last evening at 9 o’clock, by a terrible earthquake, the first ever felt in this section. A rotary shock … which lasted fully a minute. No noise accompanied it, not one was hurt, no building thrown down but had we brick structures in our town, not a building would have been standing this morning. I experienced the heavy shake of 1868 in San Francisco, which was nothing to be compared with the one here last evening. Later as people came into town this morning, we hear that it was felt about the same in all quarters within the distance of 10 miles from here.

A loud noise was heard off at sea west of Cape Blanco. It appeared like the rush and upheaving of the waters; in fact the water was seen to rise and fall, boiling and hissing. This took place, or was noticed immediately after the shock, and the people in that vicinity were making preparations for climbing a tree, or getting for higher ground. No tidal wave followed, and nothing unusual noticed on the beach. No signs of higher water. Light house and Tower still standing at this time unable to learn if any damage was done to either. –Yours truly, J.B. Tichenor —

N.B. Mr Deadmond who resides one mile north of here, directly on the seacoast says that he heard a noise off to the westward loud as a report of a hundred cannon, and that he noticed indications on the beach of very high water mosses and sand being thrown up to the highest water marks. Light House but little damaged, plastering and putty started in many places. Vibrations in tower at least six inches.”

Lt. Colonel Frank Wheaton, stationed at Fort Klamath, wrote in a letter: “Severe shock of Earthquake was felt at this Post, the duration of the phenomena was for nearly two and a one half minutes, hats were shaken from pegs, dishes rattled and shook on their shelves, stovepipes were disjointed, open doors swung to and fro on their hinges, the apparent undulations were so marked and serious that people here were seized with giddiness from it very difficult to stand erect, my floor seemed to be moving like the deck of a ship at sea influenced by a ground swell. I can learn of no serious damage done or in this vicinity by the shock of Earthquake reported.”

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This is the legendary quake that looms over the Northwest as a warning of the disaster that could strike the entire region on some unsuspected day-the circa 9.0 shake that hit essentially all of the Northwest coast and spawned tsunamis that reshaped the coast and reached Japan. James Swan, who’s thought to be the first white man to know of the quake and tsunami, wrote in his diary on January 12, 1864:

Today took an inventory of Government property for Mr. Webster. Billy Balch came in this evening and gave me a very lucid explanation why the spirits of the dead did not molest me. He says that it is because we have a cellar in the house and a floor over it. But in Indian houses there is nothing but the bare ground or sand. That when any of the Indians are alone in a great house and make a fire and cook, that the mimilos or dead come up through the earth and eat the food and kill the Indian, but he thinks they can’t came up through our floors although as he says he would be afraid to try to sleep alone here for there might be some knot hole or crack in the floor through which they could come.

Billy also related an interesting tradition. He says that “ankarty” but not “Irias ankarty” that is at not a very remote period the water flowed from Neah Bay through the Waatch prairie, and Cape Flattery was an Island. That the water receded and left Neah Bay dry for four days and became very warm. It then rose again without any swell or waves and submerged the whole of the cape and in fact the whole country except the mountains back of Clyoquot. As the water rose those who had canoes put their effects into them and floated off with the current which set strong to the north. Some drifted one way and some another and when the waters again resumed their accustomed level a portion of the tribe found themselves beyond Noothu where their descendants now reside and are known by the same name as the Makah or Quinaitchechat.

Many canoes came down in the trees and were destroyed and numerous lives were lost. The same thing happened at Quillehuyte and a portion of that tribe went off either in canoes or by land and found the Chimahcum tribe at Port Townsend.

There is no doubt in my mind of the truth of this tradition. The Waatch prairie shows conclusively that the waters of the ocean once flowed through it. And as this whole country shows marked evidence of volcanic influences there is every reason to believe that there was a gradual depressing and subsequent upheaval of the earth’s crust which made the waters to rise and recede as the Indian stated.

A 2005 article by Ruth S. Ludwin and others called “Serpent Spirit-Power Stories along the Seattle Fault” quoted one account in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer of Sunday, March 20, 1904:

When Seattle was first settled by the white people the Indians told of a great earthquake that had occurred some fifty years before. They related that the shocks were so severe that the earth opened up in great cracks and that their little mat and slab huts were shaken to the ground and there were great landslides.

The largest slide near Seattle was immediately south of West Point lighthouse. It is about a mile in extent and can be clearly seen at the present day. The lower bench of Kinnear Park slid at that time from the cliffshore, carrying giant fir trees that still stand on the slide. The Indians said that the mountains “momoked poh” (shot at each other), and roaring of the tidal waves was frightful.

In another 2005 article by Ludwin and nine others called “Dating the 1700 Cascadia Earthquake: Great Coastal Earthquakes in Native Stories,” an Indian named Annie Miner Petersen, speaking at age 73 in 1913, said:

“My grandfather saw one of the old women (survivors) who had been left alive. She had been hung up on a tree, and the limbs of that tree were too high up. So she took her pack line and tied it to a limb, and then when she wanted to go down by means of that, she fell, she was just a girl when she fell from it. Her back was broken from it (she had a humpback thereafter). That is what she told about the raised water.”

And Beverly Ward, recounting stories told to her around 1930 by Susan Ned, born in 1842, said:

“There was a big flood shortly before the white man’s time, … a huge tidal wave that struck the Oregon Coast not too far back in time … the ocean rose up and huge waves swept and surged across the land. Trees were uprooted and villages were swept away. Indians said they tied their canoes to the top of the trees, and some canoes were torn loose and swept away … After the tidal wave, the Indians told of tree tops filled with limbs and trash and of finding strange canues in the woods. The Indians said the big flood and tidal wave tore up the land and changed the rivers. Nobody knows how many Indians died.”

You can read many more Indian stories/myths about the 1700 Cascadia earthquake.

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When Klamath Falls was hit by a circa 5.0 sequel to the September 20 earthquakes on December 4 of ’93, Sgt. Jim Pratt of the city’s Police Department said: “I was just leaving the station when it hit, and I was almost knocked off my feet. I could hear bricks hitting out in the alley from our old City Hall.” Pratt added: “We’ve been real lucky on this one. Nobody was injured. Since we’ve been through it all before, we knew what to do this time.”

Mindy Sherrieb of the Klamath County office of emergency services: “I thought it was a truck going down the street. When it didn’t stop, I thought, ‘Oh, it’s an earthquake’ and got under a doorjamb.” She summarized: “Some of the buildings downtown have lost a few bricks, but as far as any major damage there has been nothing reported.”

Gene Morse, a cook at D & K’s restaurant, said he was coming into a store: “I thought someone was up there playing a trick on me. Then I saw all these people running out of the store yelling and screaming; they were freaking out.” Afterward, “The guy who was yelling the loudest was trying to tell people to remain calm.”

Minnie Springer, grand 97-year-old woman of Klamath Falls, had just been buried at Eternal Hills Cemetery. When the family gathered at Sam’s Restaurant after the funeral and the earthquake stared, Dean Springer, Sam’s owner and a grandson of Minnie, said: “They were all trying to get out of the door at the same time.” And Springer’s staff “left steaks burning on the grill and ran out the back door.” Meanwhile, a fiddler’s group playing in Minnie’s honor left too. Springer: “Those guys are all in their 60s, 70s and 80s. They dropped their instruments in the middle of the song and ran.”

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Here, from the Oregonian, are many stories from people about how they experienced the two major Klamath Falls earthquakes (either both were 6.0s or one of them was a 5.9, the other a 6.0) on the evening of this day.

Thomas J. Wiley, Oregon’s regional geologist for southwest Oregon, said he was watching Monday Night Football in a Roseburg hotel room:  “I remember the Denver Broncos were playing, because John Elway got tackled, then I felt the hotel shake. I thought, ‘That was a pretty good tackle!'”

Wiley added that “I thought it was just a rickety hotel” until his wife called to tell him what it really was. And, that “the major thing that’s been learned from the Klamath Falls quakes” is the fact of an earthquake threat in Oregon. Wiley: “For years, there’s been a mindset that Oregon doesn’t have earthquakes. But these quakes changed that in the perspective of the populous and their legislators and even scientists. It’s a tough way to learn a lesson, and it’s lucky they were as small as they were and not right under very populated areas.”

Jim Caylor, a former Silicon Valley engineer, said, “I was in the earthquake in San Francisco (in October 1989). And this was every bit as heavy as that. . . . It was rock ‘n’ roll time. The first (quake) got your acquaintance. About five or 10 minutes later, it looked like the Fourth of July — all these transformers going off. You could feel it coming right at you.”

A couple was traveling in their pickup along state Highway 97, north of Klamath Falls, when an over 10-ton boulder hit the driver’s side of the cab, instantly killing 59-year-old Kenneth L. Campbell. His wife, Phyllis, was nearly unhurt. She said: “He took the full brunt of it on his side of the car. I don’t understand. There’s a scratch on my thumb. Just God knows why. I heard a loud crack. He suddenly yelled, ‘No!’ It was right on top of us. There was no way to get away from it.”

Phyllis Campbell added that immediately when the quake happened, “There was a tremendous flash in the sky, a short one first and then a much larger one that lit up the whole sky”-from transformers exploding. She added: “We don’t understand God’s reasoning. We just have to trust what he puts in our way.”

Police officer John Dees: “It felt like you were on a raft going over a rapid. You could see transformers exploding over by the railroad tracks and up on the hill.”

19-year-old Heather Olson: “I was at work at Kentucky Fried Chicken on South Sixth and there was a blue streak and all the lights went out. This guy from England was buying some chicken, and it scared him so bad I just gave him the food free.”

Nick Reynolds recalled: “You couldn’t walk. It was like there was a big bubble, or a flood of water rushing under the house. First it would lift one side, then the other.”

Charles A. Garrett, the veterinarian at Acacia Animal Hospital, said: “My own cat at home was acting really weird just before it happened. She started pacing, enough to drive me crazy, and then it hit. I said, ‘So that’s what it was.’ ”

Terry Bennett, part-owner of Yesterday’s Plaza, a brick antiques building at the corner of Ninth and Pine in Klamath Falls: “I know this doesn’t look great but I really feel fortunate. The actual experience of an earthquake is not the scary part. It’s afterward when you think of what could have happened that you get scared.”

Susie Aspell, a Klamath Falls mother: “We have snow days occasionally, but we’ve never had an earthquake day. It sounded like the proverbial train going through the living room. The windows rattled. The beams rattled and creaked. The shower door slammed — bam, bam, bam. It only lasted 5 or 6 seconds. It just felt longer.”

Pete Bernett, 17, said: “The whole house started flopping. I could hear the furnace bouncing underneath the house. We were surprised because everyone said there weren’t supposed to be earthquakes here.”

At the Classico Italian Ristorante, Janet Bumala said: “Pots were flying off the stove. The ceiling was falling down. Everything got quiet and then we heard a loud noise that sounded like a car wreck.”

Nancy Shindler, 45, was at home: “The first one felt like a big gust of wind. The second one felt like living right next to a roller coaster. We don’t really know what to do [in an earthquake]. We haven’t talked about it because it hadn’t been an option before.”

And here’s another picture of the Oregonian’s quake coverage:

A decade later, the Klamath Falls Herald and News revisited these quakes. It reported:

Bob Simonson remembers standing in the middle of the street outside his Gatewood home watching the hills roll.

“It was like a shock wave,” he said. “You could see it.”

The Klamath earthquakes nearly a decade ago have faded into history, but the impact of that night and the following days have left permanent aftershocks in the memories of Klamath Basin residents.

Simonson, now a deputy superintendent for the Klamath Falls City Schools, was principal at Mazama High School Sept. 20, 1993, the day of the quakes. After the first quake around 7 p.m., he loaded up his family in their van and drove to the high school, where he parked the van in the middle of the football field. Red Cross workers met him there, and they began setting up an emergency shelter in the school’s cafeteria.

Then the second quake hit.

“I was carrying a table when I saw the facade (of the outdoor breezeway) move,” Simonson recalled. “I dropped the table and ran. The building just rocked and rolled.”

The 1993 earthquakes for Barbara Anne Ezell destroyed bits of history that she loved. But now the quakes themselves are part of the Basin’s history, and she has donated two “I survived the Klamath quakes” T-shirts she bought in the week following the Sept. 20 quakes to the Klamath County Museum.

Ezell, who after the quakes fought to preserve the old courthouse downtown, was watching television at her home near Sixth and Hope streets the night the first one hit.

“The ground really shook. It rocked and rolled,” she said. “I just stood there and waited for it to stop.”

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