Stories from the Crescent City Tsunami
With Tidal Waves in the news, I got inspired by a Facebook post of The Emerald Triangle which contained excerpts from the stories of victims of the 1946 Hawaiian Tsunami.
The tales of the only recent Tsunami to hit the North Coast are emotionally devastating as this piece from NOAA shows:
“Of the ten people who drowned, five were at the Long Branch Tavern on Highway 101 South. They had been at home celebrating the 54th birthday of the owner of the Long Branch, Bill Clauson. On hearing of the tsunami, they went to the tavern to empty the cash register which had gotten wet from the first wave. As everything appeared normal they continued their party.
A few minutes before the third wave, a Coast Guard car stopped and shouted a warning. Water came in the back door and everyone jumped on pieces of furniture. The floor buckled and the west wall collapsed. The lights went out. The room flooded until there was just head room to breath. The wave crested and became calm. The son, Gary, and M.D. McGuire, a patron, helped Mr. Clauson, his wife (Agatha), Joan Fields (Gary’s girl friend), Juanita Edwards (an employee), her husband, Earl, and Bruce Garden (the bartender) to the roof. Gary and McGuire swam to dry land and got a boat that McGuire had. When Gary returned with the boat he rowed to the Long Branch. The water was calm (4th crest?) and all seven got into the boat to row about 75 feet. When the boat was about two or three boat lengths from dry land, the water started to recede, pulling them into Elk Creek. Bruce Garden managed to grab the Highway 101 bridge and saved himself as the boat passed underneath. Gary, a good swimmer, saved himself with difficulty but the other five perished (Griffin et al., 1984). The Long Branch was moved from its foundation almost into Elk Creek.
Three other fatalities occurred in the same area. Mrs. Wright, who lived near the Frontier Cafe, tried to escape with her three children. Her ten-month old son, William, was pulled from her arms and her three-year old daughter, Bonita, was also drowned.
Joyce London, who lived behind the Del Norte Ice Company on Highway 101, had just made a pot of coffee when her friend Lavella Hillsburg of Hammond Hill Road and her boyfriend arrived to warn them of the tsunami. The London’s television was not working, and they were not aware of the danger. She, her husband, and their friends tarried to have a cup of coffee after 1:00 A.M. and before the arrival of the largest wave. They got into their car but the wave shut it off. They tried to walk out arm-in-arm but were separated. Lavella, 49, was killed. Joyce was badly battered, with her hands, legs, and seven ribs broken, and blows to the back of the head and face, requiring three months hospitalization. The men were unhurt.”
Eleven people were killed and even more were injured. Four separate waves struck the city some of them reaching 2o feet high.
The Raging Sea by Dennis Powers has the following account from a woman who was in the lighthouse.
The water withdrew as if someone had pulled the plug. It receded a distance of three-quarters of a mile from the shore. We were looking down, as though from a high mountain, into a black abyss. It was a mystic labyrinth of caves, canyons, basins, and pits, undreamed of in the wildest of fantasies.The basin was sucked dry. At Citizen’s Dock, the large lumber barge was sucked down to the ocean bottom. In the distance, a black wall of water was rapidly building up, evidenced by a flash of white as the edge of the boiling and seething seawater reflected the moonlight. The Coast Guard cutter and small crafts, that had been riding the waves a safe two-miles offshore, seemed to be riding high above the wall of seawater.
Then the mammoth wall of water came barreling toward us. It was a terrifying mass, stretching up from the ocean floor and looking much higher than the island. Roxey shouted, ‘Let’s head for the tower!’-but it was too late. ‘Look out!’ he yelled and we both ducked as the water struck, split and swirled over both sides of the island. It struck with such force and speed that we felt like we were being carried along with the ocean. It took several minutes before we realized that the island hadn’t moved.
The wave crashed onto the shore, picking up driftwood logs along the beach and roadway. It looked as though it would push them onto the pavement at the end of A Street. Instead, it shoved them around the bank and over the end of the outer breakwater, through Dutton’s lumberyard. Big bundles of lumber were tossed around like matchsticks into the air, while others just floated gracefully away.
When the tsunami assaulted the shore, it was like a violent explosion. A thunderous roar mingled with all the confusion. Everywhere we looked, buildings, cars, lumber, and boats shifted around like crazy. The whole beachfront moved, changing before our very eyes. By this time, the fire had spread to the Texaco bulk tanks. They started exploding one after another, lighting up the sky. It was spectacular!