A full-scale evacuation drill is only one of the events planned for the days leading up to the 50th anniversary of the tsunami that devastated Crescent City in 1964.
Eyewitness accounts of the catastrophic night. How we’ve recovered, and how we haven’t. The science behind why we’re tsunami-prone and what to expect with the next big wave. This Triplicate special section will be one to keep.
Del Norte County is the only community in the country that has conducted full-scale evacuation drills while activating the tsunami warning system at the same time, according to Troy Nicolini, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Eureka.
That was back in 2010, but on March 26, it will do it again in an exercise based on a Cascadia subduction zone earthquake scenario.
The drill will come at the end of several days of “Tsunami Safe: Know Your Zone” activities, including guided 90-minute walking tours of historic points of interest from the catastrophe that heavily damaged downtown Crescent City and killed 11 people in Del Norte on March 27-28, 1964.
Eighth-graders from schools throughout Del Norte will be the first to take the tour, which will include eight stops marked with numbered flags and featuring information kiosks.
The public can take the same tours on Saturday, March 22. Volunteers will be on hand at each stop to explain the significance of the site. Walkers can also obtain information at each stop by scanning on-site codes with Internet-accessible smart phones — meaning the tour will be self-perpetuating long after the anniversary
The tour will begin and end at the Crescent City Cultural Center, located on Front Street in the middle of the evacuation zone. The city plans to depict a 22-foot wave on a wall of the Cultural Center — the height of the biggest wave in 1964.
City Councilman Ron Gastineau is developing the walking tour in coordination with Rene’ Shanle-Hutzell of Bicoastal Media and the Del Norte County Historical Society.
Also on March 22, a ribbon-cutting event will be held in the harbor to celebrate the completion of a $54 million reconstruction project that turned the facility into the first tsunami-resistant harbor in the Western Hemisphere while repairing damage from 2006 and 2011 tsunamis. Many public officials have been invited, Harbor Commissioner Scott Feller told a Chamber of Commerce gathering Friday.
Then, on Wednesday, March 26, tsunami sirens will wail from 11 to 11:30 a.m. during a full-scale evacuation drill for all tsunami zones in Del Norte.
In an actual Cascadia earthquake, of course, shaking that could last for several minutes would be the first warning of a coming tsunami.
“We need to build muscle memory on how to get out of the tsunami zones,” Chamber members were told by Cindy Henderson, the county’s emergency services coordinator. She encouraged all businesses within the zones to participate.
“I’m not asking you to close your business, but maybe just leave one person behind,” she said.
Maps of Del Norte’s evacuation zones can be viewed under the tsunami zone tab at preparedelnorte.com.
During the Chamber event, an enthusiastic audience of about 50 people heard the plans. Jeff Parmer, director of the Chamber and the Del Norte Visitors Bureau, noted that the anniversary events should not be celebratory in nature, considering the lives lost and damage done. Still, he said, it’s time for Crescent City to embrace its reputation as the tsunami capital of the contiguous United States.
“From a Visitors Bureau standpoint, this is huge,” Parmer said. “It could grow into an annual event to kick off the summer season.”