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