Look Back at Oregon Coast Tsunami Scare Four Years Ago Today
(Oregon Coast) – Four years ago today, the ground shook violently in Japan, and from there managed to shake up much of the rest of the world. On March 11, 2011, the 8.9 earthquake and its aftershocks tore up large areas of Japan, but even worse were the massive tsunamis that hit that coastline.
That quake and its tsunamis did much to rattle things along the Oregon coast as well. A look back in remembrance of that day and the big tsunami scares on these beaches reveals a dense and dramatic turn of events that still have their impact today.
Immediately, the Oregon coast and NOAA went on alert. At first, it was a tsunami advisory and watch along the western U.S. and Canada. Then, in what was among the most intense moments of the tsunami scare, there was the constant coverage by Portland-area TV stations. While interviewing a USGS official on-air, KGW channel 8 anchors were told by the scientist the tsunami watch and just turned to a tsunami warning, and he had some spooky things to say about the possible damage.
Unforgettable was the stunned silence by the anchors. You could even see their faces turn white.
This was about 1 a.m. Being a news site as well as a travel guide, Oregon Coast Beach Connection immediately went into breaking news coverage mode, utilizing the news features as well as a variety of social media. There was so much activity on this site that it kept crashing, over and over again, for at least two hours.
Most of the action on the Oregon coast took place between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. Highway 101, just about its entire length of 360-some miles, became a crawl. Cannon Beach resident Shawn Lamunyon said big traffic jams were snarling up areas around the all-night gas station in Seaside.
Sirens went off at various times in different coastal cities. In Seaside and Cannon Beach it was closer to 5 a.m. In Florence, it was about 3 a.m. In Lincoln City, evacuations by bullhorn began by 1 a.m.
By 2 a.m., the surges started hitting Hawaii, and officials and the public became aware these were not as large as expected. This indicated they would likely not be a problem on these shores.
Susan Burr, manager of Inn at Spanish Head in Lincoln City, remembers returning to the hotel in the middle of the night along with another manager. Several staff members showed up on their days off to help as well. After notifying guests of the situation, and keeping them updated throughout the night, the Inn at Spanish Head relocated guests staying on the bottom four floors to higher up.
Some did opt to check out and head to the valley.
“Our seawall net was installed and deck furniture removed from lower floor balconies,” Burr said. “By 7 a.m. morning traffic was moving very slowly at the Inn on 101 and people were standing near the Inn lined up waiting to see the wave come in.”
What finally happened here was no more than a few strong surges about 7:30 a.m. A few people dared these tides and were injured. Depoe Bay sustained some damage in the bay, but the biggest destruction was a handful of wrecked boats in Brookings.
What did Oregon coast cities learn from all this? Some had more work to do than others.
Seaside, however, was much better prepared than others.
Keith Chandler, manager of Seaside Aquarium, said the town had put a lot into tsunami preparation for years before that. A highly efficient warning system, drills that involved the public and schools, and a unique program designed to increase tsunami awareness made a difference.
“I think we learned Seaside was well ahead of the game,” Chandler said.
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