Latest tsunami spurs memories of '64 disaster

Editor's Note: This is the first installment of what will be a monthly column by Chuck Blackburn, longtime local resident, former teacher and county supervisor, and the renowned "Voice of the Warriors." Watch for "Del Norte People" on the fourth Thursday of every month.

I would like to thank Michele Thomas and Richard Wiens of The Daily Triplicate for giving me an opportunity to share my life's experiences in "God's country," Del Norte County.

This article is a tribute to my dear friend, the late Bill "Sweet Ole Bill" Stamps of KPOD radio. This man touched so many lives in Del Norte County during his tenure of owning and broadcasting on KPOD radio. He used "people touching people," as his slogan for his broadcasting career. I know that he is ever-present looking down on Crescent City and I have felt his presence over the years as I was broadcasting Warrior football and basketball games for the Del Norte High Warriors. I love you, Bill.

Where does a person start when he has so much to share about people, events, relationships and this great community? Well I guess the recent events in Japan and in Crescent City provide a good place to start.

The destruction in our harbor March 11 is a reminder that Crescent

City is a hot spot for tsunamis when there is potential for reaching the

West Coast. We haven't even rebuilt the harbor from the event in 2006

that was not nearly as destructive as this one. Our hats should be off

in honor of all of our officials, police, fire, emergency services,

volunteers and the tremendous training for such an occurrence. A "Holy

Toledo" to all of you great folks.

I keep reflecting back to "the big one" on Good Friday of 1964. As

happened in Japan mid-day of March 11, a tremendous quake struck

southwest Alaska near Anchorage and the coastal town of Homer. This

quake was created by movement in a thrust fault, a tsunami was generated

which destroyed Homer and other coastal communities.

We knew in Crescent City that a series of waves were moving southward

along the West Coast of our country. How big, how bad, no one knew for

sure. Arrival time was to occur about 10 p.m. that night. Some people

were trying to prepare, others went on like nothing was going to occur.

We previously had tidal wave alerts, but only minor intrusions in the

bay were evident. Remember, the large levy next to the ocean was not


Many of our commercial fisherman headed out to sea to be safe. The

inner boat basin on the north side of the harbor had not been built yet.

Fisherman anchored their boats fore and aft and had to row back and

forth in dinghies, small row boats. People were warned not to go around

the ocean, but some people do not use sound judgment.

I was teaching then at Redwood School in Fort Dick and our family

lived in a house on Morehead Road. "Sweet ole Bill" came into the

second-story studio of KPOD radio, located on Second Street. He stayed

on the air all evening and relayed over the air any and all information

that he was receiving from the news services.

At around 10 p.m. came the first reports of tidal surges intruding on

Front Street and up to Second Street. Three surges came in during that

period of time, but many shop owners went to their stores to clean up.

We were listening at home to Bill, but I was also checking radio

stations up and down the coast for reports. None were giving bad news.

As we approached midnight, Bill made a comment, "Folks, the wind's

blowing. No. It's not the wind, it's water coming up H Street and then

boiled into Second Street and was popping store windows and doors."

I could tell that Bill was real concerned for his safety. He then

said, "Folks, I don't know how long I'm going to be on the air." And

seconds later KPOD went off the air with a squeak and a squawk and no

more Bill.

As I was tuning in other stations, a report of no major tsunami

action was noted. Everything was supposedly "a-okay." Within 10 minutes

we heard an explosion from town which turned out to be Sonny Hussey's

Texaco Bulk Plant and Nichols Pontiac Car Agency just to the south. The

Texaco plant is now Renner Petroleum.

It was not until the next morning that California became aware of the

disaster in Crescent City. "Sweet Ole Bill" made it out of the station

after wave No. 4 receded. An interesting fact was that, of a lot of old

buildings in downtown Crescent City that survived the intrusion and

force of the wave, many filled with water and exploded outward as the

wave receded.

andbull; Story one: Bud Pike owned a business on Third Street, which is now

Wright's Frame Shop. Bud was at the store to make sure all was well. The

fourth wave hit and started to fill the store with water.

Bud ran to the back and entered the bathroom and climbed up on the

toilet, only to have the water keep climbing up toward his shoulders.

"This must be it," he thought, only to have the water level drop so that

he could finally escape.

andbull; Story two: Roy Magnuson, a good friend and educator, had a

double-ended commercial boat anchored in the south harbor. He and his

wife were in Ferndale visiting when he got the word on the tsunami. They

headed for home and turned down Citizen's Dock Road to see if his boat

was okay.

As they approached the dock they saw a massive wave of water coming

toward them. He spun his Beetle around and raced up Citizen's Dock Road

to the Curly Redwood Lodge, which had an exterior stairway to the second

story on the north side. They ran up the stairs in the nick of time as

the surge of water rose on the stairwell. The water was pushing stacks

of lumber, logs, debris and even vehicles ahead of the large surge. The

Beetle was surrounded by all of this mess and floated on top of the


Just as quickly, the bay receded and everything reversed direction

toward the ocean. Roy and Marilyn watched as the Volkswagen was resting

on the pavement. They ran downstairs, hopped into the vehicle, started

it and took off for home. Roy's commercial boat was no more.

These are a couple of my vivid memories of that devastating time. We

all were reminded again on March 11 of the Earth's natural dynamics. As

many of you know, we also were impacted in December 1964 by historic

floods during Christmas vacation. That's another story.

I know that many of you have similar memories and experiences. Please

share them with me for future stories. Thanks for your participation

and God bless.

Chuck Blackburn can be reached at 954-7121.