Tsunami is all washed up

South Coast endures a real-life disaster drill
2011-03-12T11:00:00Z Tsunami is all washed upThe World Coos Bay World
March 12, 2011 11:00 am  • 

What might have played out as a sodden disaster Friday opened a three-day weekend for many South Coast workers and students who waited out a tsunami that arrived in slow surges.

Instead of a wall of water, Coos Bay and area estuaries experienced what one observer called "odd tides" that began Friday morning and continued through the afternoon.

Damage largely was limited to docks at Charleston, and no injuries were reported from the swells that originated from the site of an earthquake off Japan.

Police dispatchers were first to receive the warning from the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It came 12 minutes after the quake shook Japan.

Dispatchers started contacting vital players, said Helen Thompson, Coos Bay Police Department's public relations officer. Among them were city employees and waste management workers.

Sounds of sirens

Rob Schab, general manager of the Coos Bay-North Bend Water Board, got one of the calls a little after 2 a.m. The Water Board owns North Bend's tsunami sirens. Officials told him they intended to sound the alarm at 3 a.m.

"I got saddled up and drove over to the high school to make sure the siren went off," he said.

But many didn't hear it, and Schab said a lot of misconceptions surround the alarms' volume.

"They were never designed to penetrate every single room in every single house," he said.

In Coos Bay, the police department knocked on the doors of homes and apartments complex to advise tenants to evacuate, Thompson said.

The fire department set up evacuation centers. Marshfield High School housed 200 evacuees who were tended to by school and fire personnel.

Flocks of gawkers

Thompson said the morning went smoothly. The only related incident was increased traffic at Cape Arago and in Charleston from people wanting a closer look at the tsunami instead of heading for higher ground.

Thompson said people have been desensitized by small-scale effects of past warnings.

"It seems like people want to run toward danger instead of run away from it," she said.

The Oregon International Port of Coos Bay cut fuel and electricity to ships, and asked people to disembark, said Elise Hamner, communications director.

Electricity was restored to vessels at 4 p.m.

"We're glad so many people here have been patient with us," she said.

Although the port suffered damage to finger piers and pilings, Hamner extended an invitation to Coos Bay for ships seeking refuge from more badly damaged ports.

Managing the threat

By Friday afternoon, it was business as usual in the Bay Area.

But the alarm gave businesses a rare chance to run through their safety protocols, said Ray Doering, spokes-man for the Coquille Tribe.

The tribe's crisis management team began executing its action plan at about 1 a.m. at The Mill Casino-Hotel, which sits above the bay.

"The team was there all night keeping an eye on things ... reassuring all of our guests their safety was our concern," he said.

Doering said the team was prepared to handle an evacuation, had the danger come to that.

Meanwhile, tribal officials were assisting evacuees from Charleston at the tribe's Kilkich property, where a plankhouse became an emergency sanctuary.

Bandon blasts

Meanwhile in Bandon, the city's four tsunami sirens began blasting at 3 a.m., followed by a live message from City Manager Matt Winkel telling residents a wave of 6 feet was expected to hit at 7 a.m. and for people in low-lying areas to evacuate to higher ground.

Police Chief Bob Webb and other police and city personnel drove door to door, beginning with Heritage Place Assisted Living Facility on the South Jetty.

Heritage Place administrators decided not to evacuate, based on the estimated wave. Instead, residents were moved to the third floor, where they were comforted with coffee and doughnuts.

The city cut power to the old Coast Guard building, which houses port offices, and also turned off the power to the port's fuel facility on the high dock, and to the boat basin.

Rude awakening

People flocked to the bluffs above the ocean, and Webb said he saw as many as 40 cars at the Face Rock Wayside.

The Bandon School District opened the high school gym as an evacuation center; at 5 a.m. 15 to 20 people were there. Webb said more came as the predicted wave impact drew near.

Businesses in Old Town were open, though a few remained closed until later in the day. The Minute Cafe opened at its usual 5:30 a.m. time, and considered closing, but decided to stay open.

"We were packed," said waitress Pauline Taylor.

Webb said people were cooperative about the evacuation, though some have given him a hard time about having the city set off the tsunami sirens at 3 a.m.

World reporters and editors Alice Campbell, James Casey, Gail Elber, Steve McCasland, Nathan Mitchell, Amy Moss Strong, Lori Newman, and Nate Traylor contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 Coos Bay World. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(6) Comments

  1. CB Lifer
    Report Abuse
    CB Lifer - March 15, 2011 4:30 pm
    So many smart people here! Oh, lets go stand out on the end of a wooden pier, and watch it!! I almost wish it would have been big enough to knock those idiots off the dock.. I said almost!! I figure if they are stupid enough to stand or go where your told NOT to go, and you end up getting swept into the ocean, it's your own stupid fault. Golden rule is not to turn your back on the ocean, how many do and get knocked down? Can't fix stupid.
  2. Ebbers
    Report Abuse
    Ebbers - March 15, 2011 1:56 pm
    The sirens are a joke. I've never been able to hear them. You would think if the county would just stop letting enterprises like LNG squat here tax-free for 3 years or however much it was going to be, we'd have the money to pay for a real siren system.

    The other aspect is that very few people even know what the sirens even mean, so obviously citizens need to be armed with info as well.

    It's like the blind leading the blind sometimes in Coos Bay, I swear.
  3. Ebbers
    Report Abuse
    Ebbers - March 15, 2011 1:52 pm
    The Bay area was extremely lucky, and unfortunately won't be when the quake is in our front yard instead of Japan's. I do strongly feel people were misled however (and still are, if you read the bullet points provided with this article) - a tsunami is a *series* of waves, and cannot be pinpointed into a 15 minute category. It's awful that so many people figured they were fine once 7:30 came & went.

    Tsunami education should be an absolute *must* for anyone with people's lives in their hands.
  4. coosbay person
    Report Abuse
    coosbay person - March 14, 2011 7:20 am
    Where I live in Barview the siren can't be heard unless I'm outside and the wind is blowing just right. Why isn't there one at the Charleston Fire dept on Cape Arago? Also why did only certain houses out here get knocks on the door for officals telling them to leave? The system needs a lot more work. I agree with you notfromhere Cape Arago should have been blocked off to people wanting to get to the beaches. I hope the officals learn there week points from this.
  5. m00npenny
    Report Abuse
    m00npenny - March 13, 2011 1:11 am
    You cant stop stupid.
    Law enforcement, The World Newspaper and other agencies in the area deserve a huge applause. I am sure this brought forward any weakness' in our tsunami warning system. I think what saved us from being slammed by the tsunami, was that we were at low tide. Had it been high tide, we would of seen more than we wanted to.
  6. notfromhere
    Report Abuse
    notfromhere - March 12, 2011 12:03 pm
    I would like to commend The World for providing updates all day long on Friday. There was surprisingly a lack of local news coverage on local events. My only complaint is: why werent the police blocking access to Charleston and Cape Arago to deter the stupid people from going out to the beach? Evacuation means get out, not run to. If the general public cant excercise good judgement, maybe local law enforcement can help out in that area if there is a next time.
Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick

Content Match

Class 50 percent off

Today's Events

More Events

Get TXT news alerts

Text “START” to 541-897-6428.

Standard messaging and data rates may apply.

Featured Promotions

Follow Us!