MANZANITA — A year has passed since a tornado ripped through Manzanita, damaging more than 140 homes and businesses and toppling dozens of trees in the beach town.
But walking the streets now, all that remains visible from that stormy day is one shuttered building on Laneda Avenue and an overwhelming sense of calm.
“Everyone’s back to business as usual,” said Jerald Taylor, the city manager. “With the number of calls we’ve been getting about (the tornado), you’d think we would be holding a tornado festival or something.”
The 135 mph gusts that ravaged the small community on Oct. 14, 2016 are rare on the North Coast. While the town feels generally prepared to handle another storm, the dread of having to do so still sits in the back of some people’s minds.
“When we had a few water spouts, it brought back a few memories. Some folks are still a little nervous because we know it can happen,” Taylor said. “When we were hit by a very unusual event like this, the biggest thing we lost was the feeling of, ‘It can’t happen here.’”
Many in the community feel grateful. There were no fatalities, and due to emergency planning, power was restored to most of the town within two days. While several homeowners are still rebuilding, the community came together quickly and efficiently to clear debris.
Chung Lee, the owner of Manzanita Market & Deli, was one of the lucky businesses on Laneda Avenue that escaped significant damage. He was out of town when the tornado happened, and remembers driving from Astoria only to find the roads blocked with debris.
“I couldn’t believe it. It kind of looked like a war zone. I was concerned because I didn’t realize it was so bad until I got here,” Lee said.
But it wasn’t even 24 hours later before his power was restored and the debris that prevented him from entering town the first time was cleared by volunteers and city employees.
“It’s a small town, but we always seem to pull together when something like this happens,” Lee said, reflecting on his 20 years living in the small community of about 600 residents. “Sometimes being a small town is an advantage, because you know each other better, which means you help each other out better.”
That camaraderie is also the first thing that came to mind for Doug Dick, a resident and consultant for On the Level Inspection Concepts Inc.
When the tornado hit, Dick was the town’s building official. He said recuperation for damaged houses has been slower than expected due to complications homeowners have had with insurance claims. But what impressed him was the initiative taken by local construction companies immediately afterwards.
“I remember we were pulling trees out of Laurel Street so people could get into driveways. All of a sudden, this kid pops out of nowhere cutting trees with his chainsaw. He was just there to help,” Dick said. “They didn’t wait to be told what to do — they just went out to do what they needed to do.”
Many older homes had to be demolished because damage was so severe, he said. While it is sad to see older homes go, he said the bright side is many of the new homes being rebuilt are more wind and earthquake resistant, which will hopefully minimize the damage of another storm.
A sense of normalcy has returned. But Dan Haag, the coordinator of the Manzanita Visitors Center, said he still receives calls from people asking whether the town is safe — or even still exists.
“In general, the tornado has turned into more of a curiosity thing now. People want to know what happened,” Haag said. “But a lot people haven’t been back since the summer before the tornado. At first, we asked, ‘How are we ever going to get people back here?’”
From what Haag can tell, Manzanita still saw the same number of visitors over the summer. Now he is encouraging people to keep coming back.
“We are getting the word out: Manzanita is here and back to normal.”