Posts Tagged ‘March 11 2011 Oregon Coast Tsunami photos’

Throughout this week, I’ve looked with horrified sadness at the photos of a devastated, dazed and bewildered Japan—the aerial shots of broken villages, smashed ships, colorful pick-up-sticks of merchandise containers swept on top of one another by the tsunami. I’ve studied stark stills of an old woman being carried on some young guy’s back, a line of stolid face-mask wearers patiently waiting to being scanned for radiation, firefighters hosing down a potential nuclear meltdown, a father holding his once-was-lost and now just-found-alive three month old.  I’m moved by both their unfathomable loss and their sturdy resourcefulness in dealing with two natural disasters and multiple nuclear power plant potential catastrophes simultaneously. As our cousin Elaine, who taught there, commented in an e-mail: “Each day as the news grows worse and worse about Japan, I remain absolutely incredulous at the devastation, and yet, the civility of the people is so very admirable — not even any evidence of looting, despite the deprivation.”

Meanwhile on our side of the Pacific, mundane daily life has resumed. But tsunamis are no longer some mere melodramatic “what if?” Our house lot’s east side forms the farthest inland edge of the map of the worst-case nearshore-earthquake-followed-by-tsunami flood like Sendai, Japan experienced last week. In the past we’ve joked if we just went upstairs we’d come out fine. After last week’s events, it’s not quite so funny anymore.

Tsunami Evacuation Map: Port Orford (courtesy of Oregon.gov)

Nor is it true. As the emergency management folks have pointed out, if the worst did happen, not only would our sewer be knocked out (the treatment plant is just behind barrier dunes), so too, most likely, would be our water, our electric, our phone. It’s also possible the earthquake would cause our house to slide much lower and closer to the beach. Suppose we were to emerge intact: Planners suggest we should have stockpiles of water enough for a month (that’s at least 200 gallons for us and our pets) as well as food, medicine and fuel. We just don’t have the means to secure, much less store, all that.

But if we evacuated, I know, at least at present, there is nothing stored at the high ground places we’re supposed to evacuate to in Port Orford. I doubt there will be soon. Being prepared requires cash. Right now our country seems fixated on supposedly not having any. At least for public needs.

So what if what happened in Japan happened here? Quite honestly, I don’t know. And that’s a very scary thought.


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4:00 am: The tsunami siren blasts. We both awaken. Assuming another false alarm, Stan groggily rouses himself to check out his computer home page, the New York Times. He’s back in a flash, wearing a strange abstracted look. “This is it,” he says. “There’s been an enormous earthquake in Japan. A tsunami is coming.”

We turn on our trusty NOAA weather radio and hear news out of Medford. At first the announcement only covers Coos County, listing evacuation centers in North Bend, Coos Bay and Bandon. Soon after other information is included, most importantly for us that the first wave, estimated height 3.5 feet, is expected to hit Port Orford at 7:15 am.

Rattled we dress and Stan goes to the garage. He gets suitcases and the cat carrier. We drink coffee and try, calmly and rationally, to plan. Without much success. At least we have more than two hours to act.

4:45 am: I try the regular radio but can find no station. (I discover later I’ve somehow turned off the speakers in my haste and apprehension.)

5:00 am: We don’t have TV but by computer I pick up a Medford TV station doing live video. We’re shown people streaming inland from the central and north coast. There is little mention of us on South Coast.

6:00 am: By phone, I talk to the emergency management coordinator for Curry County. He reminds me that this is a distant tsunami, relatively small and coming in on a low tide. He advises drinking more coffee and waiting. I put on another pot.

6:30 am: I go to the corner of our street and look north toward 18th Street, one of the two major evacuation routes in town. I expect to see a steady stream of cars. Nobody passes. After a few minutes I return home.

7:00 am: Just minutes before the wave is supposed to hit Oregon, the TV station’s news program stops live stream. Our key information source is gone.

7:40 am: We walk the two blocks to US 101, the main coast highway. Traffic is nonexistent. We walk south to the ocean view overlook. There, more than fifty feet above the beach, we join at least 35 cars and trucks filled with wave watchers. One person rolls down his window and tells us we’ve missed the first one. But it wasn’t much. The sky is blue, the clouds fleecy. It feels more like a whale-watching party than an oceangoing catastrophe.

Walking toward home, we find the coffee store has opened and we catch up with friends and neighbors. Yes, most folks in the low-lying Hamlet area have evacuated, just to be safe. A neighbor comes in, sits down with her coffee and announces, “This is the last tsunami I’m doing.” Comparing notes we discover we’ve all acted similarly: calling distant relatives, getting our cash and medications together, securing the pets, venturing out for information and coffee.

10:15 am: We head to Battle Rock,  another viewpoint safely above the beach. This time we arrive armed with our snapshot camera. There are probably 30 people there too.

At first the ocean looks just about the same. But on closer examination, it’s obvious something is different. Then we see the first of three tsunami waves. It begins as a steady outward flow, like the water is being sucked away from the shore. At its farthest outward point it is well beyond even a low low tide, exposing ocean bottom we’ve never seen before. Then the tideline reverses and comes up the beach, not in standard waves but as a steady inward flow. Small wind waves cap the sheet of water. Then a flow out, a flow in, and a flow out again. It is as though we are watching an entire 12 hour tidal cycle in each seven to eight minute in and out period.

11:17 am: Another siren goes off. An all-clear?

3:30 pm: At Ray’s The Food Place I find out no, it has been for real. The sheriff had it blasted to “remind” people that we still had a tsunami warning and to stay off the beach. The library is closed. Other than that, we seem to have emerged unscathed.

4:15 pm: I read the peak wave at Port Orford was 6.1 feet at 9:24 am, topped only by Crescent City’s 8.1 feet. One person died near Crescent City while trying to take pictures. Five more people were rescued from beach incidents. Brookings’ and Crescent City’s traditional harbors both sustained major multimillion dollar damage.  Our port has none, but then Port Orford’s is very unusual.  Boats here don’t remain in the water. They’re hoisted into and out of the water to “dock” on our permanent quay.

5:15 pm: It’s over. I fight off tears.

Here are snapshots taken of the March 11, 2011 tsunami at Battle Rock Wayfinding Site, Port Orford. They were taken between about 10:20 am and 10:45 am PST. They don’t really tell the story but note how in some photos inshore rocks are surrounded with water, followed by large outward movement and an amazingly wide expanse of exposed beach.

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