From the Publisher's Desk: A letter to friends, 3/11/11

By Michele Grgas Thomas The Triplicate March 16, 2011 07:30 pm

Note: We all have our accounts of where we were when we found out the tsunami was headed our way and what we did that day. This is a copy of an email I sent out late last Friday night.

To everyone –

I apologize for sending this message that resembles one of those Christmas letters I always make fun of, but I don’t have the energy to write to each of you individually.

Friends and relatives called today and a bunch of other people, too. I’m just now getting back to you and a few others who may be wondering how things are in this little corner of the world.

My morning started late compared to most of the other folks in town. Yesterday was a particularly rough day for me because I had to put my dearest dog Martha — my best companion for the last 10 years — “to sleep.” Rick was in Portland visiting his aunt but Collin is here and was a huge help. It was a terribly emotional day from the moment I got up yesterday and then last night Dana and Matt called and we talked and cried and cried. We all loved Martha so much. I was so distraught and finally fell into a deep sleep.

I keep my cell phone by the bed set to “phone calls only” so every text and email that comes in at night doesn’t wake me up. This morning I discovered several messages from friends sent in the wee hours of the morning telling me about the earthquake in Japan but I didn't know about it until 5 a.m. when I got a phone call. I never heard the siren. When Rick weatherized the house he made it really soundproof!

When I was awake I realized that our office was going to be evacuated. I made some calls and met some of my managers at the office. As we were packing up computers, lap tops, cameras, etc., two firemen came to the door and said we had to be out by 6 a.m. — which was in 10 minutes. We grabbed what we thought we’d need, I put signs on the front and back door saying we were closed until we were cleared to return and put a quick message on the answering machine saying we'd moved to a temporary office on high ground at the school district building.

A tsunami in 2006 prompted a county-wide tsunami response plan and today we got to try it out for real. We had been assigned a room to use as a temporary newspaper office in the school district building. The space was great — actually seemed a little bigger than our real office.

When we were setting up the remote office we discovered that our server did not survive the move. That caused all kinds of problems which led to hours of lost time. For a while we couldn’t access the templates to put out a newspaper tomorrow. Without them, our paper wouldn’t look very much like today’s paper. Another server was having problems as well and it looked like we might not be able to access our classifieds. But in the end after some work-arounds, all the technical stuff was working.

A "surge" had been predicted for 7:23 a.m. but by 8 I hadn’t heard that anything had happened and started to think we were safe, but soon after there were reports of damage at the harbor. Our photographer got some incredible shots and video throughout the day.

I called a friend who loves to do aerial photographer, and another friend who loves to fly and asked them to go back into the air a second time that day for more aerial shots of the harbor and of any boats they could find at sea. Our hope was to keep the web site updated with photos but there was so much traffic to the site that we weren’t able to access it most of the day.

Thirty four boats remained in our harbor after 6 a.m. this morning. All the rest went out to sea as is protocol when a tsunami is predicted. All 34 appear damaged or sunk. The ones at sea might be in danger. We don’t know if they have enough fuel to find safe harbor somewhere nearby. They won’t be coming back here and it's not going to be Brookings, just 26 miles north, because that harbor, too, has been suffered incredible damage.

I did most of my work from home today with my cell phone, my computer and the radio on. I knew better than to get in the way of reporters and photographers covering a story this big. I had my own command center going. The phone number I left on the answering machine at the office was mine and I fielded dozens and dozens of calls from all kinds of people but mostly other media - TV, radio, newspaper, even a British magazine.

Some wanted eyewitness accounts and an interview, some wanted photos and videos. In the course of the day, I talked to a lot of different people but wasn’t able to return all the calls.

I grabbed my camera and went to check on the folks at the remote office around 11. I was surprised to find people at the end of my street lined up watching the surges and the line of people and cars went on all along Pebble Beach Drive along the coastline. People with kids, dogs, cameras, camcorders. It was a beautiful day and it was like they were all waiting for a parade or something.

The surges were eerie – it was like going through the high to low tide cycle every few minutes. The tides would go way out, like minus tides, then come in at over 8 feet. That surging is what ruined the docks, dislodged the boats and eventually sunk them.

Mid afternoon I realized I'd made a strategic error - forgot to get our delivery vans out of the parking lot . Our circulation director attempted to get downtown to retrieve our vans but was turned back. Fortunately one of our trucks was in the shop (on high ground) and another one of our drivers has a van, so we put plan B into effect.

Rick rushed home when I called him this morning. He no sooner got in the door and I sent him on a couple of photo shoots including a trip to Brookings for a first hand look at what their harbor looked like. Rick's photos revealed a mess. We used to own that houseboat in the Port of Brookings Harbor and have friends there with boats. Rick ran into one whose boat had sunk. The houseboat is still floating. I hope it survives.

At 6 p.m. they finally announced "all clear" in Crescent City and we could get our vans and get into the office to change the answering machine message referring everyone to my cell phone among other things. I just came back from visiting the crew at the remote office. They’ll be staying there tonight to finish tomorrow's paper. We will go to press around midnight. It will be an incredible edition full of great photos and great reports.

Tomorrow morning our congressman Mike Thompson, our state senator and our assemblyman will be here to officially call us a disaster.

I'm sorry that I did not return some calls from concerned folks today. As you can tell it was a crazy day but I wanted to let you know tonight that Rick, Smitty, Collin, Collin's dog Thomas and I are fine. I am grateful for your concern.

We are safe and relatively sound. Here's an example of "relatively" - at 5 a.m. today, I was wandering around the house in my pajamas trying to figure out what I should do first. I woke Collin up and told him to fill every jar and pot in the house with water. Rick and I have always said we didn't store up enough water for an emergency. I left for the office and when I came back Collin had followed my instructions perfectly. My kitchen counters are covered in pots and pans and jars and jugs all filled with water!

That's it from the disaster capital of California!

Love to you tonight. Be safe. We are so grateful – it could have been so much worse.                            


Reach Michele Thomas, The Daily Triplicate’s publisher, at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it , 464-2141, or stop by 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.