Richard Wiens, The Triplicate

I've been in this business 32 years, through earthquakes and firestorms, and I've never been run out of my own newsroom.

Until Friday.

Nothing like waking up to a tsunami siren. Then, within an hour, seeing the lights of so many boats on the dark horizon and feeling tardy upon my 5:45 a.m. arrival to The Triplicate office as colleagues finished loading up computer equipment. I grabbed some Rolodexes and lifted bound volumes of old editions from the floor to a table, figuring a few feet might count in the potential inundation zone. We'd been told to leave by 6.

Our first act of a long day would be retreat. That fact alone

threatened our ability to produce a newspaper. It would be up to the

technically minded to see if we could actually produce the first version

of this particular history from emergency quarters on higher ground -

the school district offices on Washington Boulevard.

Occasional renewal of sirens lent the dawn an air-raid ambience as I

drove through the empty streets toward the harbor. I'd already sent a

reporter and photographer that direction, figuring they needed to be on

that side of town before the authorities blocked access. Surreal

anticipation hung heavy at the harbormaster's second-floor office. A

brief chat, then back down the stairs to photograph a fishing boat's

late escape.

People were already gathering at viewpoints along Pebble Beach Drive.

They'll never see anything from there, I thought - quite mistakenly -

as I drove toward our newsroom-for-a-day.

Listening to local radio, I grudgingly accepted this would be more

their story than ours for the next few hours. We'd posted the warning

information on our website hours earlier, but for a while the site was

inaccessible as we itched to update. Phone calls told me the surges had

begun and the harbor was taking a beating. Bryant Anderson started

e-mailing photos from his remarkably high-resolution camera phone. With still blocked, I found some catharsis in e-mailing our

words and images to the Western Communications mother ship for immediate

posting on the Bend Bulletin website.

With my staff deployed, I was sometimes alone with little to do

between telephone updates. My wife Laura called to describe the

spectacle being enjoyed by throngs along ocean bluffs on Pebble Beach

Drive. Impossibly low tides followed within minutes by threateningly

high tides. Over and over. I diverted a reporter there, then indulged

myself with a quick drive to take in one of the surge cycles myself.

Something of a carnival atmosphere there, a contrast to what was

unfolding in the harbor.

Each arriving photo showed more devastation. Access to our own

website remained spotty, but we did manage to post fairly early updates.

The rest of the worldwide web was maddeningly available, and it soon

became clear that Crescent City was once again the epicenter of tsunami

damage on America's West Coast. Phone calls from faraway media outlets

confirmed this. Ironically, the guy who was seeing the least of the

action first-hand was interviewed live on Los Angeles television and

Sacramento radio to provide on-the-scene accounts of what was happening

in the tsunami capital of the contiguous states.

There came a point where the editor gave the publisher - they were

alone in the newsroom - an extremely succinct report on the state of the


To her credit the publisher, ever the mom, turned toward an open door

leading to district offices and, thinking of possible students nearby,

indicated such language should probably not be used there.

Fortunately, no students materialized. As for school district

staffers, they made our stay as comfortable as possible. My special

thanks to Don Olson for his technical assistance and Superintendent Jan

Moorehouse for taking in us journalistic refugees in the first place.

By late afternoon, staffers were mostly tapping away at keyboards or

downloading photos at their makeshift work stations. We now knew that a

Klamath man had been washed away by a wave - some of those helicopters

buzzing Del Norte on Friday were doing more than documenting the

devastation. There was information to organize, page plans to make, and

always new details awaiting posting to a website that was finally

behaving. Miraculously, the technical sorts had figured out backdoor

routes to our computer server - we could produce pages just like we did

on good old Third Street.

The overview story and writerly sidebars slowly emerged. The

Northcoast Life section and the sports page were co-opted for tsunami

picture pages. It was all transmitted to the press plant in Smith River

by midnight, where more sweat was expended to produce the final product

delivered to our readers - on time - Saturday morning.

Covering a disaster is frantic work, but it pales in comparison to

what Del Norte's boat captains experienced Friday - those who set sail

and escaped, only to have no dock to come back to, and those who

struggled in vain to protect their vessels in the churning boat basin.

In the days ahead, our job is to focus on the fishing industry and

what must happen here and in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., to make it

whole again.