It’s hard to believe we’re closing the chapter on yet another year. I remember my mother lamenting at New Year’s about how fast another year flew by, but it didn’t seem fast as a kid. Now I know exactly what she meant.
Like I usually do at the end of a year, I’ve spent some time revisiting the highlights and lowlights of 2011. If I were making a personal top 10 list, the memory that rises to the top began the morning of March 10.
When I woke up that morning I made the decision to take my good dog Martha to the vet to be euthanized. Actually, she made the decision for me. She’d gotten to the point where getting up and around became more and more difficult, but she always climbed the stairs to sleep near me. On that morning I found her in the kitchen. She wasn’t able to get up and she wasn’t able to walk.
After an emotional morning, I went to the office. There were projects on my desk that needed attention. But I had every intention of taking the next day off, March 11. Martha and I had been best friends for over 9 years and I needed time to grieve and regroup. Rick was in Portland visiting his aunt so I could stay in bed with a box of tissues all day if I wanted to and cry my eyes out in private.
But my phone rang in the early hours of March 11 and by 5 a.m. I was back at the office. I wasn’t afraid, but I was worried. We were not prepared for a tsunami evacuation. I wasn’t sure what to take and what to leave. A few other managers showed up and as they packed up computers and took rolodexes off of desks, I grabbed a box and tried to figure out what we might need.
I filled the box with reporter’s notebooks and pens, my laptop, a camera — things we could use to conduct business as usual and publish a newspaper even if the office were wiped out. The last thing I did before the fire department personnel at our door told us to leave was to change the message on our answering machine. I think I sounded very calm as I said that we were evacuating and could be reached at my cell number.
March 11 was sunny, skies were blue. I drove back and forth from my home office to the school district building on Washington Blvd. where we’d set up our makeshift newsroom. I took pictures along the way documenting all the people who drove with their children, pets and, in some cases, a picnic lunch to watch for the big one up close.
My phone never stopped ringing! I answered calls from concerned people at our corporate office and our sister newspapers who wanted to make sure we were safe. And I talked to dozens of callers from other newspapers as well as television and radio stations from all over the country and even England, wanting our story, a firsthand account, a live interview, photos, anything I could give them.
The days that followed the tsunami were the worst. In the aftermath, I stood in the pouring rain with agonizing boat owners, a dismayed pollution clean-up crew and curious onlookers as vessels from our fleet were raised from the ocean’s floor. The demise of the Stormy, the Kodiak and our friends’ sailboat Impulse were particularly moving stories that brought tears not just to my eyes, but to the people who were hired to come here and do the work.
Rick’s duties as a public affairs officer for the Coast Guard Auxiliary at the harbor gave us both a unique vantage point, and I found myself spending more time at the harbor while the federal and state-assisted operations were in full swing. We developed friendships and witnessed incredible outpourings of empathy and generosity from people like Rachel Polish and other government and contracted personnel.
These folks had been assigned to Crescent City but grew to love it and the people here. They discovered our secret — that this is a very special place especially when times get tough, and the people of Del Norte County know how to pull together and make the most of it.
The tsunami of March 11, 2011 will always be a stand-out memory for me — both as an ending and a beginning. We’ve got some wounds that need healing, but we also have the potential for a new, safe and relevant harbor that could be the catalyst for growth and prosperity. Here’s to the future! Happy New Year.
Reach Michele Thomas, the Del Norte Triplicate’s publisher, at email@example.com, 464-2141 or stop by 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.