Floods also ravaged Del Norte County

May 29, 2007 12:00 am

By Nicholas Grube

Triplicate staff writer

Besides tsunamis, Del Norte County is known for its susceptibility to other devastating natural disasters – floods.

During the late , three floods terrorized the people of this county with their awesome power, changing the make up of the communities and the land.

Flood of 1861-62

Heavy snow pack combined with warm rains were the cause of that started in December 1861 and lasted through January 1862.

"The winter of 1861/62 was one of unusual severity," A.J. Bledsoe wrote in his book, "The History of Del Norte." "The flood gates of heaven were opened. The rain poured down in torrents, and fierce gales from the ocean added their terrors to the scene."

The flood waters carried redwoods, spruce and fir trees down the Smith and Klamath rivers and into the ocean, which, in turn, would slam into and up the shoreline.

In Crescent City, piles of drift wood and whole trees washed along the beaches and crashed into buildings on Front Street, with reports of logs even reaching Second Street.

This woody debris, though dangerous and destructive for the city, actually may have saved Crescent City from more damage. The logs created a barrier 10 feet high that helped to protect the city from their dangerous effects.

Smith River, Fort Dick and Klamath, on the other hand, were not so lucky.

In Smith River, houses, barns and cattle were carried by the rushing water into the ocean where they were lost. A fishery, located near the mouth of the Smith was swept away by the currents, carrying with it 400 barrels of salmon.

Houses from Fort Dick were ripped from their foundations and floated several miles away through the lagoons.

Fort Ter-waw in Klamath was destroyed, with the waters sweeping away a large officers' tent, and over 1500 American Indians were displaced to Smith River.

According to the National Park Service, the amount of timber that was uprooted and found on Crescent City's beaches was enough "to supply the California market for years."

Floods of 1881 and 1890s

Flotsam – debris floating on the water's surface – again was to blame for much of the damage incurred during these floods, which are said to have risen higher than the flood of 1861-62.

Heavy rains caused the Klamath River waters to rise to unprecedented levels. Houses again were taken along with the river's currents and many cattle and livestock drowned.

Trees plucked out of ground in 1881 would occasionally not make the full journey to the ocean, rather, as Morgan G. Tucker put it, they "came crashing down the river, some of which were deposited on the farms, while others found their way to the ocean."

In 1890, flood waters rose 100 feet out of the Klamath, carrying away the Martins Ferry suspension bridge that once crossed the waterway, while logs and debris, once again, were piled on the Crescent City beaches and store fronts.

These floods, as damaging as they were to the towns and people living in Del Norte County, also took a toll on the environment, uprooting thousands of now-rare redwood trees.

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