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43 years ago...

By Cornelia de Bruin

Triplicate staff writer

uring the hours a tsunami slapped Crescent City, wiping out its downtown, a young newspaperman was on the streets covering the story of his life.

The year was 1964. The news hound? Former Crescent City American owner/publisher Wallace Griffin.

Twenty years after the event, Griffin published his book "Crescent City's Dark Disaster," which chronicles the events and showcases photos of the natural disaster that killed 12 Del Norte County residents.

The "bore" that hit Crescent City 43 years ago today almost totally damaged the city's harbor.

"The lumber wing of Citizens Dock was a shambles, and there were only enough pilings standing along the main dock approach to the lumber and fish wings to keep the badly sagging floor from falling into the bay," Griffin wrote in his book. "The lumber wing resembled a washboard with planks from the dock floor and piling leaning crazily at all angles."

Although the "fish wing," the newest part of the harbor in 1964, was in better shape, it too sustained extensive damage.

Much of the damage came from huge logs and the concrete, 40-ton doluses that acted as battering rams as they washed like toothpicks through the town.

Police officers, deputies, highway patrolmen, firemen, U.S. Coast Guard and volunteer citizens saved many lives. In some cases, those rescued never knew who had helped them.

As the waves were wreaking havoc, some residents drove to the scene to help or observe, only to be caught up in the next wave.

From that night came a new moniker for Crescent City, the "comeback town," coined by Bill Stamps Sr. Stamps Sr. was taken off the air when the waves shorted out his equipment.

"Dark Disaster" credits Mason and Virginia Dever of KPLY, who stayed on the air all night to broadcast the latest news to those who could hear them.

Most residents know the facts, but for those whose families were not here in the early morning hours of that Good Friday:

•The quake that shook Prince William Sound, Alaska and generated the tsunami registered 8.5 on the Pasadena scale. At the time, it was the most severe quake recorded in North America. Its waves reached Crescent City at 12:04 a.m.

•When the series of waves subsided in Crescent City, 11 had died and three were missing. A Klamath resident also died.

•Seaside Hospital, then Crescent City's medical facility, received 12 in-patient and 12 out-patient flood victims. The facility's telephones were out for about four hours as frantic loved ones tried to locate the missing.

•Assistant County Engineer Cliff Niessen reported that the maximum crest of the wave was 20.78 feet.

•The waves damaged a total of 289 homes and businesses.

•Damage totaled $16 million.

•Financial aid to families reached $51,876. One-hundred nine applications for assistance in Crescent City received $42,922. In Orick three applications received $858, in Gold Beach two applications received $1,265, and in Seaside, 13 received $6,831.

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