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
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
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
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.