Looking Back: Oregon Coast Storm and Damaging Media Coverage
(Oregon Coast) - A year ago this past week, the north Oregon coast saw the most devastating storm in decades. The central coast faired much better, but both were hit by gusts of 100 mph or more, suffered torn up roofs and commercial signs, forced to deal with closed roads, power outages, and then the major economic fallout that occurred afterwards. Towns like Lincoln City had problems for 24 hours or so; Newport, just 24 miles to the south, had almost nothing.
But farther up 101, at Bay City, Rockaway Beach, Manzanita, Cannon Beach, Seaside and Astoria, things were nightmarish for a while. Manzanita was out of power for a few days; Seaside and Cannon Beach longer. Bay City and Rockaway, however, had no power for about a week or more, and the top of one church in Bay City had been ripped right off. Meanwhile, Highway 26 was cut off for about three days because of downed trees, something that’s still evident today on the hillsides of the western slope of the coast range.
Now, a year later, the coast is looking back at those wild, crazy times and the heartwarming moments, and sometimes with a bit of anger at what happened afterwards.
It was among the roughest winters on record for tourism there, even though things were largely back to normal within a week. And many blame the media for that.
Jeanne Clark, with the Seaside Chamber, remembered some scary moments.
“Three solid days of howling wind,” Clark said. “Lying in bed, hoping the trees in my yard wouldn't fall on my house. The big one went into the street. The Seaside Volunteer Fire Department was great about coming to saw it apart and reopen the street.”
Dave Johnson, owner of Cannon Beach Fultano’s Pizza, recalled his truck being picked up briefly by wind gusts.
“We were without power for four days, so couldn't really see any one coming to the coast,” said Brian Hines, owner of Manzanita's San Dune Inn.. “Manzanita was isolated for that period. No access in or out: north, south or thru Miami Foley to Garibaldi.”
For Wendy Higgins, manager of the Ocean Lodge in Cannon Beach, her most frightening moment of the storm was realizing they had gobs of stranded people staying at the hotel and possibly no way to feed them.
“I had two bags of meatballs from Costco and items I could make spaghetti,” Higgins said. “We let the guests know about dinner we were planning to serve in the lobby and they all pitched in and brought wine and bread. The Driftwood donated the salad. The evening was priceless.
“We fed over 40 people, staff guests and neighbors. When guests checked out the following day, people were thanking us for making what could have been a total disaster into a memorable time blessed with new friends.”
At the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, it was all a part of life for the resident aquatic mammals, said public relations manager Cindy Hanson.
“There was nothing too terrifying about the storm here,” Hanson said. “Even our animals, being native to Pacific Northwest waters, are adapted to Oregon coast storms in their natural environment. They just hunker down and wait for it to pass just like the residents. Also, we have state-of-the-art life support systems with emergency power backup. In the event of a power outage, our animals don't even know about it.”
Hanson’s sister was visiting at the time, and her reaction wasn’t so calm.
“It was her first one and she was totally freaked out,” Hanson said. “ ‘Shouldn't we call 911 or something?!’ " she said.
“I said, ‘Honey, this house has endured 28 years of storms, and this isn't really a big one.’ "
Hines said his most memorable moment of the storm was trying hook his computer up to the generator at the motel.
“I wanted to log on to the Daily Astorian, who weren't obviously putting out a print edition but had channeled all their efforts in to the web edition,” Hines said. “This was about our only source for what was going on locally as phones, cells, TV were out, and radio reception is limited even during the best of weather.”
Hines said quite a few travelers and locals were stranded in the area. “They stayed with us as they couldn't access their homes, because trees were down, etc.” Hines said. “No power, but our large water heaters held enough of the hot stuff to last for a few days.”
Higgins said one couple at the Ocean Lodge needed to catch a plane in Portland but had no gas, so another couple drove them over.
For Hines, his most heartwarming moment of the storm was the Franz Bread truck driver who had a tree fall on his rig. “The police brought him to our place. He had no way to let his employer or wife in Portland know he was o.k., or where he was. Finally got a message to 911 in Tillamook who used the emergency system to contact them. He eventually got out of here two days later.”
Kim Bosse, executive director of the Cannon Beach Chamber, said the storm made two big imprints on her, as well as changed the way officials are looking at the coast.
“The two most lasting impressions of the storm here were how well people pulled together, helping each other out,” Bosse said. “And then after the fact, organization that has gone on for preparedness for future problems. Prior to the storm we seemed to be focused on tsunamis, but now the city has formed a group to oversee the shelters for any activity that disrupts the community.”
It was afterwards that angered many coastal residents and business people, who believed TV coverage of the storm’s aftermath seemed to hype the disaster-stricken scenery, but neglected to mention that the roads were open, the power was back on and the businesses were back to normal.
Business lagged badly through December and January, only picking up briefly in February when a flurry of publicity over unique finds in the sand coincided with excellent, dreamy weather.
Eventually, the big story for the coast became the bad economic conditions, where many of the reporters and on-air types acknowledged constant coverage of the storm may have left the public with the wrong impressions.
“Our business was off about 10 percent that December,” said Hines. “For months after, people coming in on US 26 would comment on the forest devastation. Business remained marginally for the norm for a couple of months after. But who knows, considering the prognosticators have just decreed that the current recession started in Dec 2007. But personally for this part of the coast think it’s just beginning to hit the last month or so.”
Deb Trusty, owner of Village Bistro and Deli in Newport was one who staunchly believed media coverage adversely affected the coastal tourism industry.
“The scariest day for us was the day we grossed $18 and we realized that the media was burying us,” Trusty said. “The reporters were painting the entire coast with a broad brush. Undoubtedly the media playing the drama card hurt us extensively.”
Hanson, who has been in the media business for decades, didn’t totally agree.
“The biggest reason some businesses suffered was the same as always - when a road at the coast is closed due to a slide or flood, people tend to think the entire coast is inaccessible,” Hanson said. “I don't blame the media coverage. It's just that the big stories are about the damage, not about the majority of the coast being just fine, but people don't realize that.”
Newport beach expert Guy DiTorrice has also been in the media biz for decades, on and off. He feels economics has played a bigger role in hurting recreational travel activities this year. But he too believes there’s some over-generalization going on when it comes the medium of sound and visual bites.
“I’m always amazed at how highly-talented television weather people treat the Oregon Coast as one huge area weather location, yet they drill down Portland neighborhoods into individual micro-climates,” DiTorrice said. “Would be great for them to consider doing the same 'weather-bug' locales for four or five coastal locations, to more accurately paint a picture of potential weather and/or current conditions."
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