These images come from the Seattle Times of March 28, 1964, and the Times of March 29. Here is the headline:
And on its arrival at the Washington coast:
These images come from the Seattle Times of March 28, 1964, and the Times of March 29. Here is the headline:
And on its arrival at the Washington coast:
When the Vancouver Island earthquake of Sept. 9, 2011 happened, I got curious about other sizable quakes on the island that I hadn’t already looked up. I found out about a large quake on December 6, 1918, and looked up some coverage of it:
The report, in the Seattle Times, added that “the earthquake appears to have taken a northwesterly to southeasterly direction, as it was reported at Estevan at 12:40 [a.m.]; here [Victoria] two minutes later and at Vancouver at 12:45.”
Wireless operators said the quake “was particularly bad on the West Coast of Vancouver Island where in some cases sleepers were shaken out of their beds.”
Another quake happened early on December 4, 1926:
By the way, shortly before the 9/9/11 quake I started a Twitter account to keep track of new B.C. quakes.
After starting this blog with the intent of describing primarily the Nisqually earthquake, it’s come to have the broader goal of chronicling a wide variety of sizable quakes in the Northwest through the decades. With that in mind, I thought some statistical descriptions of those earthquakes were in order. So, here is a chart showing the frequency of 4+ magnitude earthquakes with an epicenter in Washington or Oregon, from 1970 through 2010:
This is an alternate presentation of the above data, in the form of scattered dots. It’s interesting to see that the year-to-year variation seems to diminish when you look at dots rather than bars of color to represent the number of quakes:
You’ve probably noticed that both of the above charts omit 1980, the year of the St. Helens eruption. The reason is that the number of 4.0 plus quakes connected to the eruption dwarfs the cumulative number of quakes in all other years of these four decades. Here’s a chart that includes 1980:
By the way, according to the PNSN, the total number of Northwest quakes since 1872 with at least 4 magnitude is 519. Of those, the number associated with the St. Helens eruption in 1980 was 315, from March 24 to May 21. Also, the PNSN notes that “this list is incomplete prior to 1970. Since 1970, the list should be complete, and include all WA and OR earthquakes magnitude 4.0 and greater.” As of mid-2011, the number since May 21, 1980 was 79. There were 24 on St. Helens on May 18, 1980. 13 of the ones since 1872 had at least a 6 magnitude, and 3 had at least a 7 magnitude.
By way of comparison, here is a chart showing the number of 7 plus magnitude earthquakes happening around the world in each year from 1973 through 2010:
And, again, the same data in the form of scattered dots:
And a final comment: although the 22 7 plus quakes in 2010 is the greatest in any year since 1973, it is not extraordinarily greater than the 15 to 18 quakes that happened in many years of the past four decades. In the U.S., we tend to think of years that include devastating quakes in our country as being especially bad: and yet 1989, the year of the Loma Prieta quake, had just 7 large quakes globally, and 1994, the year of the Northridge quake, had just 13, about an average year.
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.
And, here is the Times reporting on a 5.2 magnitude quake (5.5 on the Richter scale) on the night of February 13, 1981, a little ways northwest of Mt. St. Helens. It was just barely the largest earthquake in the NW since 1965: the series of quakes that led up to the St. Helens eruption on May 18, 1980 included many that were around a 5 magnitude.
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.”
This is the counterpart to the better known, and much better documented, Cascadia subduction zone quake of 1700. We have only geology and fairly hazy local Indian stories to confirm that the Seattle Fault released about a 7.3 magnitude quake in a year close to 900 A.D., with the results including a tsunami, land to the south of the fault being pushed up about 20 feet, and huge landslides that buried grown trees under the surface of Lake Washington.
It’s hard to visualize what such a quake could do today, although local agencies have produced a scenario for the havoc a somewhat smaller event on the Seattle Fault would produce. The Haiti earthquake was of similar size, and happened on a strike-slip fault, whereas the Seattle Fault is a reverse fault: land to the north of it drops in an earthquake, land to the south of it rises in an earthquake. The 6.9 magnitude Kobe earthquake in 1995 was also a strike-slip action, and the damage from it is probably the closest recent match for the sort of damage that would come from a circa 7 magnitude Seattle Fault quake.
Anyway, here is some information about those local Indian stories connected with the circa 900 quake. Back in 1893, the Seattle Post Intelligencer printed this explanation from Samuel Coombs, an early settler, of a long-ago earthquake and its associated ritual:
“During the past thirty-three years I have on many occasions endeavored to gather from the oldest and most intelligent Indians something for their earlier recollections; for instance, as to when the heaviest earthquake occurred. They said that one was said to have occurred a great many years before any white man had ever been seen here, when mam-ook tamah-na-wis was carried on by hundreds. This is the same performance they go through when they are making medicine men, and consists of shouting, singing, beating on drums and sticks and apparently trying to make as much noise as they can.”
Also, the Suquamish Tribe, located on the Kitsap Peninsula, had an oral tradition about the creation of Agate Passage, which separates the peninsula from Bainbridge Island:
“Long ago, when this land was new, the area we know as Agate Pass was much smaller than today. . . . There lived in this . . . body of water a . . . Giant Serpent. The Double Headed Eagle flew over the pass and the Giant Serpent came up very angry. The two began to fight, and the earth shook and the water boiled . . . the people began to scream and cry until it was as loud as thunder.
“Then, as if the earth was going to be swallowed by the waters, they began to boil and churn. Then, the Double Headed Eagle exploded out of the water and up into the sky with the body of the Giant Serpent in its claws. The Double Headed Eagle flew back into the mountain and behind him was left the wide pass . . . .”
The two above stories come from a 2005 research article, Serpent Spirit-power Stories along the Seattle Fault, which notes that “the description of the widened channel could reflect permanent ground-level change, and the sense of ground motion suggested by the story is accurate: Agate Passage is on the down-dropped northern side of the Seattle Fault.”
The article estimates that the circa 900 earthquake “caused 7 m of vertical uplift on the southern side [of Seattle Fault], sent massive block landslides tumbling into Lake Washington, and created a tsunami in Puget Sound that left sand deposits on Southern Whidbey Island.”
The article also links earthquakes and tsunamis to Indian stories about the a’yahos, a supernatural being thought of as either a huge serpent with fearsome eyes and horns [such as the one told of above] or as a composite monster with the head and toros of a deer and the tail of a snake. The a’yahos was “associated with shaking and rushes of turbid water and comes simultaneously from land and sea. At the spot where a’yahos came to a person the very earth was torn, land slides occurred and the trees became twisted and warped. Such spots were recognizable for years afterward.”
The article goes on to talk about a handful of a’yahos spirit boulders located near the Seattle Fault and thought to be markers for landslides and other damage wreaked by the huge circa 900 quake. It is one of the few documents that attest to not just the threat but the actual damage caused by ancient Northwest earthquakes that did not make it into the historical record. You can read a bit more about this in a University of Washington news release on Indian tribes and earthquake mythology in the Northwest.
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.
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.
The Seattle Times has asked its readers to share Nisqually stories to mark the 10-year anniversary, and some have responded. Reprinted here is one of the most unique and dramatic ones, from “twodogsafd” in Tacoma:
I was on Alaska Flight 583, arriving from Reno on the morning of the quake.
We had just touched down and were rolling down the runway when the quake struck. I thought we had an engine going out of control with the swerving, bouncing, and noise.
The crew got the plane on a taxiway, radioed that Seattle was being hit by an earthquake, and to stay in our seats. I looked out my window and, while we were jolting around, watched the jumbo jets bounce on their oleos at the North Satellite. I never thought to check out the control tower where the windows popped out.
After the quake stopped, I think the pilot made record time getting us to a gate. We deplaned, and promptly got caught by the massive traffic jam.
Flight 583 was the last plane to land at Sea Tac for the next several hours. Kudos to the crew for keeping the plane on the runway and keeping us safe. As a firefighter, I always appreciate someone looking out for me (and my crew)!