Japan Tsunami Hits Southern Oregon & Northern California Coasts

March 11, 2011

Hundreds of people are dead and hundreds more missing after a massive earthquake struck northern Japan; millions are still without power. While across the Pacific Ocean, tsunami-warning sirens blare as boats drift silently without captains; the harbors in Brookings and Crescent City all but destroyed.

Door-to-door evacuations started in crescent city very early this morning. Sheriff deputies pounded on doors, while sirens blared continuously. Even before law enforcement or the emergency sirens blared many heard of the threat from friends. As they packed kids, pets, and valuables into their cars evacuees worried about where to go and what they would come back to if anything.

Newswatch12 spoke to many people who were grateful they have experienced tsunami drills in the past. While some relied on friends who live on higher ground others fled to the shelters.

Even though evacuations started at 4 a.m., the Curry County Sheriff’s Office activated the tsunami-warning siren again at 11:15 this morning. The purpose of the later siren activation was to emphasize the tsunami warning previously sent out, emergency crews say people were returning to the beaches, harbors and marinas, apparently believing the threat had passed. The ocean surges from tsunami waves have actually been stronger as the day progressed.

Emergency crews in Brookings had to rescue several people swept into the water because of the large surges of water. Many areas along the Oregon coast saw waves as high as nine feet and tsunami warnings were issued to anyone in low-level areas. People in Brookings say they were woken up at 4 a.m. by the first tsunami siren and crews in Curry County immediately told people to stay away from the ocean; but some chose not to listen, and several rescue operations were launched.

Curry County Emergency Services say at least 4 people were rescued from the water after being swept out by the large waves. They also received reports that of at least one fatality, but were unable to immediately confirm whether it was related to the surge in water; but Coast Guard helicopters are still searching for a northern California man who was swept out to sea in Del Norte County. Officials say his chances of survival are slim.

The Curry County Sheriffs Office and other emergency personnel have been responding to each of the incidents and say they are trying their best to keep people from getting too close to the water. Brookings was under a voluntary evacuation order for low-level areas. The surges continued to get bigger throughout the day, and emergency crews want to stress that if you don’t have urgent business there, stay away from the beaches.

Crescent City Harbor sustained heavy damage. The tsunami wave drew water out of the small harbor, which for a few moments became almost completely dry. Boats and docks sat on the sand and it seagulls even used it as an opportunity to grab a few fish. The water then rushed in at an alarming rate causing damage to everything within.

Farther north along the Oregon coast, people are returning to seaside after orders to evacuate. Tsunami sirens and voice messages echoed throughout the city and police headed out onto the boardwalk with lights and sirens urging everyone to stay away from the water. Few people back out on the beach around mid-day, but seaside police reminded them of the still-in-effect warning and asked them to leave the beach.

Oregon’s Governor was up all night keeping track of the threat to people on the coast. John Kitzhaber says he is feels the state dodged a bullet, but is very pleased with the way the state and locals worked together to get the tsunami warning out. It wasn’t without glitches, some northern Oregon towns never heard the siren go off, but reverse 911 and fire crews driving with loudspeakers filled in the gaps. While at first glance, the governor is satisfied; but as emergency responders dissect how this real life evacuation went, they say they will look at some problems with sirens.