Floods part of 1964's treacherous Del Norte weather

June 05, 2007 11:00 pm
Nine years after the floods of 1955, another 100-year flood occurred. In December 1964, the storms came in off the Pacific one after another. The warm weather caused the mountain snow to melt and run off into the river. The Klamath River crested 10 feet above the 1955 flood level. (Photo submitted by The Del Norte County Historical Society).
Nine years after the floods of 1955, another 100-year flood occurred. In December 1964, the storms came in off the Pacific one after another. The warm weather caused the mountain snow to melt and run off into the river. The Klamath River crested 10 feet above the 1955 flood level. (Photo submitted by The Del Norte County Historical Society).

By Nicholas Grube

Triplicate staff writer

In the same year that a tsunami ravaged Crescent City, rising waters also ravaged other areas of Del Norte County.

This time, instead of ocean waves pummeling the land, it was river currents rushing down the mountains and through the valleys that devastated the area in 1964.

During the Christmas months, storms rolling in off the Pacific combined with warm weather caused snow in the mountains to melt and the Smith and Klamath Rivers to swell to unprecedented heights.

The 1964 flood was the second 100-year flood to occur in less than a decade. In 1955, a flood forced residents in Klamath, Klamath Glen and Orick to evacuate their homes and convinced President Dwight D. Eisenhower to declare the area a "major disaster area."

Hundred-year floods don't occur every 100 years. Rather, the name is a statistical probability saying that any given year there is a 1-in-100 chance there will a flood of this size.

Though flood gauges were swept away during the 1964 flood, estimates suggest that the flood waters crested 8 to 10 feet higher than they did in 1955.

According to a Red Cross survey, nearly 850 homes were destroyed and 3,000 people left homeless after the 1964 flood. Damages were estimated at $40 million. This time, on Christmas Eve, a new president, Lyndon B. Johnson, declared the region a disaster area.

Several bridges over the Smith River were washed away, as well as sections of the Douglas Memorial Bridge over the Klamath River (the bears stood their ground). The only way into Crescent City was from Brookings since the bridge over the Chetco River was not washed away with the flood waters.

Mud, sand and silt caked the roadways and covered the foundations of homes that no longer had houses. Logs and debris were once again stacked along the Crescent City beaches while the Klamath townsite was completely obliterated and abandoned.

The flood of 1964, coupled with the deadly tsunami earlier that year, changed the landscape and the history of Del Norte County forever.

Reach Nicholas Grube at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it