Even though the harbor district is seeking funds for a vertical evacuation center, port officials want to find out how long it would take for people to get to the assembly point at Crescent Elk Middle School during a tsunami.

Harbormaster Charlie Helms said he plans to hold a tsunami evacuation drill for guests of Redwood Harbor Village. Helms said he would focus on the harbor’s RV park first “just to work the bugs out” before including Bayside RV and the hotels in the area.

“What we’re going to do is let them know when it’s going to be,” Helms said, adding the harbor would hold two public meetings before the drill. “Then we’re just going to sound an air horn and time it, and we’ll have somebody from the harbor district try and walk with them... (We’ll) just do a hike and see how far we get in 11-15 minutes.”

According to current tsunami hazard maps created by Humboldt State University and the California Geological Survey, the Crescent City Harbor lies within the evacuation zone. It’s not until you get above 9 Street going north or past Howland Hill Road going up Elk Valley Road that you get to safe ground, according to the maps.

However, according to Helms, who cited City Manager Eric Wier, getting to 9th Street could be problematic for people in and around the harbor since U.S. 101 and the pedestrian bridge over Elk Creek may fail in a large Cascadia earthquake.

A few years ago, Helms said he and other people working in the harbor hiked to high ground to Elk Valley Rancheria. That took 24 minutes walking at a “decent pace,” he said.

“We haven’t done one up to the 9th Street area for awhile,” he said, “so we’re going to pace it off and see how long it really takes.”

The Crescent City Harbor District has been searching for funding opportunities to build a vertical evacuation center. The vertical evacuation center would serve people staying in the 347 hotel rooms, 299 RV spaces and eight tent camping sites in and around the harbor. It could also be a place of refuge for 500 crew members working on commercial fishing vessels, according to Helms.

But, Helms said Friday, the port would be lucky to get a vertical evacuation center built in five years. In the meantime, the port has prepared an informational sheet focusing on tsunami preparedness for people staying at Redwood Harbor Village. The port will also reach out to nearby Bayside RV as well as the neighboring hotels to see if they’re interested in providing similar information to their guests, Helms said.

Though getting to 9th Street from the harbor in 10-15 minutes may be a tall order, Humboldt State University geology professor Lori Dengler said the more inland and higher evacuees get, the safer they are. She acknowledged that getting to 9th Street takes a bit more than 10 minutes, but the important thing is the city and harbor district are working to identify all the issues that comes with getting people to safety. Ten to 15 minutes is the estimated time between a Cascadia earthquake and the on shore arrival of the first tsunami waves, Dengler said. The first surge may not be the largest, she said.

“It may be that the largest surge comes in 20 to 30 minutes,” she said. “We don’t know. We can’t predict, but you want to be moving uphill as rapidly as you can.”

Dengler, along with National Weather Service meteorologist Troy Nicolini, both of whom work for the Redwood Coast Tsunami Work Group, took part in evacuation drills that included a walk up to 9th Street as well as along Elk Valley Road.

“What we found is that 9th Street is certainly the better option than heading up Elk (Valley). It took you longer to get out of the inundation zone by doing that,” Dengler said. “The second time when I did it, going up to 9th Street took about 13 to 14 minutes to get all the way up to 9th Street.”

Dengler noted the area around the Crescent City Harbor is vulnerable and it wouldn’t be easy for a tourist to evacuate if they weren’t aware of what to do. Figuring out where to evacuate to depends on where you are, she said. For a person on Crescent Beach, a good option may be to head south on U.S. 101, Dengler said. But going south on U.S. 101 for those at the harbor could be problematic, she said.

“We really emphasize the importance of going on foot,” she said. “All Highway 101, it’s low and you’re likely going to have disruption due to liquefaction. When you have really strong ground shaking the road is quite likely not going to remain intact so you can’t just gun it and expect you’re going to be able to get up that hill.”

Most people in Crescent City can walk to higher ground in 10 minutes, but that may also be a problem for people with limited mobility, Dengler said.

“But the good news is they’re looking at the problem and they’re not shrinking from it,” she said of the city and the harbor. “So I say bravo.”

Helms said some have suggested other options for safety during a tsunami, such as getting to the top of Whaler Island. This was dismissed because it can be hard for people to climb it and the path up is narrow.

A California Coastal Commission representative viewing the proposed site for the vertical evacuation center also suggested the large Fashion Blacksmith building as a possible safe place during a tsunami, Helms said. But, he noted, the building was constructed in the 1970s and is made out of wood.

“Coastal, honestly, checked all the areas,” Helms said. “But if we’re going to get a 25-foot wave — that’s what’s painted on the side of our building; that was the height of the 64 tsunami — I don’t see any place safe to go.”

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

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