In 2007, the Great Coastal Gale ripped through North Coast communities, leaving people without power days and the streets filled with debris.
Cannon Beach was no exception. While the storm brought many challenges, many of the residents who lived through it all mentioned one resource of which there was no shortage: resiliency.
“We realized we must really depend on ourselves,” said Rich Mays, who was Cannon Beach City Manager at the time. “There are people who are supposed to help, but we had to look out for ourselves. It’s an attitude of resilience that has lasted until now.”
During the first three days of the storm, all communication was cut off, Mays said. Due to flooding on Highway 101, no one could enter or exit the town. Only one-third of all police officers and public works employee lived in town, which only added to the difficulty of organizing emergency services and repairs.
“There was a sense of isolation. All the landlines down, cell towers down. No one had a way to communicate with us. That was scary,” he said.
Mays remembers posting flyers on bulletin boards as a way to communicate with people, and staying in city hall to answer questions people had about the power.
From a city perspective, there were many lessons learned, said Jay Raskin, who was mayor at the time.
“The biggest takeaway was that the City needed a truly multi-hazard emergency response plan. Our emergency response had been geared for a Cascadia earthquake and tsunami with the idea if we prepared for that we would cover the other hazards,” Raskin said. “The storm taught us that different hazards require different responses.”
In response, the city ended up investing in more generators, as well as doing more outreach to prepare and recruit more shelter staging areas and volunteers.
The storm brought out the best in people, as restaurants donated their food to help feed people, our county neighbors along Highway 26, who were loggers, used their equipment to help clear Highway 26 to help us get reconnected to the rest of the State, among many other examples,” he said. “The setting up the shelter by the Community Church helped teach us what was needed to set up and run shelters and benefited from the many volunteers.”
David Robinson, the pastor at Cannon Beach Community Church, remembers getting notified Monday morning by to city, who asked him to start a shelter. The church had a shelter plan with the Red Cross, but they couldn’t come because the road was flooded.
“We didn’t have a lot of rehearsal. We were used to potlucking for church, but we had to transition into thinking about food handling standards,” Robinson said.
From there, volunteers from all corners of town came out of the woodwork to pitch in. Robinson remembers Martin North organizing commercial restaurant donations, who needed to use their food before it spilled after refrigerators lost power.
“We had steak nights. We even had the signature dish of the Wayfarer, the Halibut Steverino – almond crusted, with stuffed mushrooms and asparagus. I remember there was applause when it came out,” he said. “It was a unique time.”
But it wasn’t all fun and games. Anxiety loomed over the fact no one knew when power would return, and running a shelter logistically equates to “organizing a party for 500 people for 72 hours straight.” But Robinson fondly recalls how close the community felt when they were solving these problems together.
“The more we can serve as a non-anxious presence in these events, the better. It’s an ongoing lesson. We need thoughtful people who help others, and in 2007 that’s what happened.”