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Updated 4:46pm - Sep 16, 2014

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Personal accounts from 1964 tsunami

Residents watch water, debris and logs float down a Crescent City road during the 1964 tsunami. (Del Norte County Historical Society).
Residents watch water, debris and logs float down a Crescent City road during the 1964 tsunami. (Del Norte County Historical Society).

Michelle Radison

Special to the Triplicate

One of Del Norte's most remembered events is the tsunami that struck the area in 1964. The waves raging into the city were created by a magnitude 8 earthquake in Alaska. Due to the seismic activity, the seas off the Crescent City coastline began to churn.

On the morning of March 28, 1964, under the cover of night, the waves struck. Damage was inflicted on a total of 289 buildings and the citizens of Crescent City were affected forever. These are some of their stories:

Floating appliances

Bob Ames reported that water had forced its way into Ames Appliance and Furniture store. Five people were inside when the first set of waves began to rise.

"The water was dangerously close to shattering the store windows," stated Bob Ames. "As we dashed for the stairs leading up to a small storeroom, the electricity went out and we could hear appliances and store counters being hurled below us. We kicked out a section of wall leading out on a canopy and saw six teenagers on top of Ames' car in the parking lot. Then as the water started back out again the car started to go too, then finally jammed into a section of Glen's Bakery and stopped."

Wading through the water waist high, they could see others in the moonlight coming out of buildings, some of Ames' appliances were found blocks away.

Ray Young of Glen's Bakery reported, "I watched the waves come in from where Denny's is. It was a beautiful night. Not even a cloud in the sky. The water was coming in whirlpools throwing cars and everything behind it."

Homes on the move

Helen Boone told the story of awakening in the night to a strange noise. As she awoke to investigate, her home was torn loose from its foundation. It was tilted at an angle as she stood at the low end with water gushing in.

At the odd fellows hall, the building had completely lifted from its foundation and was moved 30 feet or more. The Harbor Grotto restaurant was also moved 33 inches off its foundation, and 7 1/2 feet of water rushed through the building. The Windy, a ship owned by Larry Devolve, was sent into the then under construction Crescent City pool.

At Battery Point Lighthouse, Peggy Coons was witnessing the wave.

"I heard loud blasts of breaking glass and splintering wood. I watched buildings crumble and automobiles picked up like toys. We stood glued to our spot knowing that there was no way off the island. Suddenly there it was—a gargantuan wave, the mass of water stretched from ocean to sky. The couple ran for the tower, which had withstood 100 years of storms. The wave struck the island, and it took a moment for Peggy to realize the island had not moved. The only debris on the island was a spool of lavender thread that had washed ashore from the mainland.

Ray Scach reported, "I went to check on the lumber yard about an hour after the first wave. I was near the middle of the building when I heard a loud roar. My truck was in front, so I ran into it—about 4 feet of water picked up the truck and moved it."

Police Officer Joann Jochimsen wrote, "After the second wave hit, we all thought it was over. I was inspecting the damage when I got caught in a wave. I scrambled onto the Thunderbird Motel, and I had a lot of company. Twenty-five to 30 other people also climbed to the roof. We watched as cars floated up L Street."

Strange occurances

After the wave there were some interesting reports from citizens. Jackie Childs found that all of her furniture had fallen over, but on her headboard were her reading glasses and an unspilled cup of coffee.

Some chairs were found in the Baker and Stanton furniture store, but they had come from the Thunderbird Lodge two blocks away. There were fish found all over town in drawers. Behind walls and in hanging plants the smell was said to be horrendous. And although the shed with Helen Boone's fine china was moved blocks away not a dish was broken.

The citizens of the area banned together to rebuild Crescent City after the wave. Many people now stroll along the beaches of the area enjoying the ocean, but they should remember the men and women who brought life back to the destructed city.

 


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