So where is the good news among all the property damage we are witnessing at the harbor? The good news is that there was only one life lost and that was because he did not have the advantage of living in our area and being exposed to the extensive tsunami education that we as a community have had.
Yes, it could have been worse, a lot worse. When you compare the tsunami of 1964 to this event, a lot has changed. On Good Friday, March 27, 1964, there were just a few outlets for local information: the two local radio stations, KPOD and KPLY, and the two newspapers, The Triplicate and the Crescent City American. The two radio stations received their information from the outside world via the Associated Press phone lines into the station.
When the 1964 earthquake hit Alaska at 7:30 in the evening the first word that KPLY got was three hours after the event at 10:30 p.m. Contrast that with today. The information about the earthquake and possible tsunami was available almost immediately via every news outlet you can think of, radio and TV through the emergency action notification system, internet, social media and our unique method of warning our people of an emergency situation: the sirens located at various locations in Del Norte County.
Forty-six years ago, when both radio stations broadcast the information that Crescent City could experience a tsunami, it gave many people the excuse to go to the harbor area to watch the wave come in, as they had done so often before. Today we know better. When the sirens sounded on Friday before dawn, Crescent City residents knew this was no weekly test. We knew it was the real thing. Having practiced a real evacuation from the tsunami zone less than a year ago we knew it was time to evacuate.
Unlike 1964 when the phone lines went dead after the first wave and people had no way to find out what was happening, when townspeople heard the siren on Friday, they could turn to the various national news outlets to get the big picture, then they could turn on their radio to find out what was happening locally. It didn’t matter if they tuned in KCRE-FM, KPOD-FM or KPOD-AM, they got the same information via simulcast. If people did not have a radio, they could get information from the Internet and listen to the live radio broadcast on their computer.
If they did not have a way to get the live broadcast from the internet, they could get the latest printed story from the Daily Triplicate’s Internet site, triplicate.
com. The Sheriff’s Department assigned deputy Bill Stevens an information officer, making sure the public got the information it needed when they needed it. Later on in the morning, people could even find pictures of the destruction right on their computer.
We all know practice makes perfect and being prepared beats being sorry. The events of last Friday proved it. Those people who were evacuated knew exactly what to do and where to go. Many went to stay with friends and family living outside of the tsunami evacuation zone. Others went to shelters where the Red Cross and other volunteers were ready for them. Katie and I were fortunate to have evacuated friends in for six hours. We watched TV, listened to local radio, tuned to the computer for other information and, best of all, we heard from friends and relatives, from every part of the country, wondering if we were OK.
It’s worth noting that things could have turned out a lot differently. Sure, many of our citizens lost their boats and other property which is sad, but things are replaceable. People are not. Our emergency personnel did exactly what they are trained to do. Our volunteer organizations sprang into action and made sure those being evacuated were well cared for, and best of all, citizens took this event very seriously and evacuated the tsunami zone without question or complaint.
It makes me proud to say that I live in our tsunami-ready community.
Bob Berkowitz is a Crescent City resident and the former owner of KCRE.