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Coastal Voices: One couple’s tsunami sojourn

My doorbell rang at 4:41 Friday morning, followed by a loud  pounding at my door.

I thought I was dreaming.

I stumbled out of bed, and in my loudest and raspiest morning voice, I managed to utter, “Who’s there”?  The return voice identified himself as a Crescent City police officer. I cautiously creaked open my front door to see it was, indeed,  a uniformed Crescent City policeman.

“Good grief,” I thought to myself. What dreadful news is this law enforcement messenger going to deliver to me? A thousand bad thoughts shot through my brain as I awaited his response.  He advised me there is an ongoing tsunami alert and warned me there was a voluntary evacuation of all coastal areas. Relieved by the somewhat somber news, I thanked him for letting me know of the conditions, returned to the bedroom to tell my wife Angela that we needed to prepare to leave the house and act on the side of caution before this first  tsunami surge arrived.

We live right on the ocean in arguably one of the most magnificent locations on the West Coast.   A gently-sloping trail from our backyard takes us to the beach where it is currently a low tide. Nonetheless, the ocean is not to be taken for granted or underestimated, so we prepared to leave not knowing when we would be permitted to return.

Family began calling us immediately and we advised them all was well in Crescent City and not to worry about us. Pat and Roy Bieber invited us to their home to sit out the tsunami warning. We gratefully accepted their invitation.

Our first hint this adventure might be more of an ordeal than we’d not bargained for was breakfast. After packing the dog (and cat) into the truck, we headed up to the Hiouchi Café. The place was mobbed. This great little café which serves up some of the best breakfasts anywhere I’ve ever eaten resembled a Greyhound bus station. After a short wait, I found a seat at the counter and a mature gentleman (that’s a kind way of saying someone older than me) named Floyd offered his seat to me. I politely declined. He insisted on telling me he was at the café since 5 a.m. and he didn’t wish to be seated.  I thanked him as he positioned himself behind me, and Angela and I shared breakfast. The morning was still feeling like a great adventure as we chatted with other patrons, including, Floyd.

We left Hiouchi Cafe heading over to the Biebers’ home near Del Norte High School.

I was following all the news with Rene and Chuck on KPOD-FM and I learned the first surge of waves from the quake had arrived and its effects were fairly minimal. Good news, I thought, we’ll be home, soon.

Before arriving at the Biebers’ home, we headed back toward our home and observed the coordinated efforts of the emergency personnel. The agencies had been planning for this event for decades and they knew exactly what they were doing. All streets from U.S. Highway 101 to the ocean were cordoned off. No one was going to get back into the restricted low-lying coastal areas. So, we parked ourselves at Brother Jonathan Park at 9th street, right on the ocean.

I observed Mother Nature in action as the ocean slowly retreated, exposing areas of the beach heretofore not ever seen.  I was awestruck from my observation point as I watched the beach area expand… and continue to increase. Within minutes, the waves returned. Wave after wave after wave began to move east-southerly, toward the shore, pounding the base of the cliff.

I contemplated the status of our home and wondered if our home was positioned high enough and far enough back to avoid the unforgiving and unrelenting Pacific Ocean.

Then, some relief. The ocean began to settle down and conditions returned to normal, whatever that meant. I noticed a fellow teacher at the cliff location where we were standing and shared some thoughts about the day’s events.  Again, I was hopeful; we would be back at our home in short order.  No … it was just then another series of surges and retreats.

The news arrived of devastation at Crescent City Harbor.  I also learned a man had been swept away to his apparent death at the mouth of the Klamath.

Angela and I headed over to the Biebers’ and spent the rest of the morning and better part of the afternoon at their home “listening” to the television as it broadcast vital news over KPOD/KCRE. Later that afternoon we departed, thought we might slip under the radar and get back to our home. No chance … the law enforcement agencies continued to keep the area secure until free of danger.

Back to Brother Jonathan Park. Another round of tsunami surges undulating onto the shore. No re-entry would be permitted to the tsunami zone anytime in the immediate future, I thought.

Dinner plans at our home with Bruce and Suzie Barber, Adam and Tami Trask were changed to the Barbers’ home in Gasquet.

Back up the hill we traveled,  Angela and I, our Yorkie terrier Bailey and cat Isabelle. When we arrived, we learned the tsunami zone would be open by 6:30pm.

What a relief to hear that news!

After a great spaghetti dinner at the Barbers’, I couldn’t wait to go home, feed the dog and cat, and survey the damage, if any.

By 9:30, we were home-sweet-home. Our house had not been swept away, there was no damage. One cannot imagine the relief that overcame me.  As I walked down the trail to the beach, I took note of how high the water level had reached and determined the highest of the high tides with the push to of the tsunami had reached the first step of the 25-foot trail, leading to our backyard.  Wow! We dodged a bullet. The harbor was not so lucky.

Saturday morning, and I can’t belive it. The Triplicate produced a newspaper of yesterday’s news. How did they do that? Preparation, I suppose.

The high tide was moving toward an 11 a.m. low tide. I took a walk with my binoculars toward the B street Pier and was humbled but what I observed. The harbor was no more.

I realized I needed to do something. I enjoyed good luck but others were no so fortunate. I needed to help and I would.  Crescent City is in a world of hurt, right now

I am asking any and all who read this to please help our town. Pull out your check book and write as generous a contribution to the City of Crescent City, attention:

Harbor Relief Fund,                           

377 J St., Crescent City, CA. 95531.

I am going to do exactly that right now.

Roger Gitlin moved to Crescent City about six months ago.

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