Community pulled together to help each other out
By R.J. Marx
Neal Wallace was the public works director for Seaside in 2007, and it fell to he and his team to respond to the cleanup left in the aftermath of the Great Coastal Gale.
“I feel like we are always prepared for something,” Wallace said. “It’s part of what we do.”
It was Sunday evening, Dec. 2, 2007, and “it was blowing up pretty good outside.” A light sleeper, at 6 a.m. there was a knock on the door.
It wasn’t until he saw a big billboard tossed onto the highway that he realized the scale of the storm.
“We get big winds, but those winds just kept up,” he said. “It was howling for 24 hours.”
Among his first actions was to gather crews and help respond to public safety concerns.
Despite three days of high winds, Wallace and crew battled the outdoor elements. “Monday they were really bad,” he said. “You just do. It’s just one of those things. You’ve just got to hunker down and fight your way through it.”
The community pulled together to help each other out, from individual residents to the fire department and Pacific Power, which brought crews from throughout the West.
The Bob Chisholm Community Center turned into a shelter for hundreds of residents, under the direction of Mary Blake, then executive director of the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation Department.
While the building didn’t have a backup power source at the time, Wallace and his crew helped hook up a 60-kilowatt generator so they could run the kitchen and run lights.
The emergency operations center, using walkie-talkies, allowed the city to coordinate cleanup operations.
“Down at the south ‘Y,’ off on the east side of the highway, was a big empty lot that had been graded off,” Wallace said. “We got permission to bring debris there, which was very handy.”
A hauling crew brought grinders in and hauled the material away. Western Oregon Waste added to the recycling effort.
Wallace sees the city’s 2007 response as indicative of what might happen when future disasters strike.
“Wherever there is a problem, people figure out a solution,” Wallace said.
While storms will always hit, moving power lines underground makes a big difference, he said. The city is working on that now — all new development requires underground power, and busier areas are targeted — access areas, the beach, Avenue A, 12th Avenue and Holladay Drive. “Hopefully they’ll do that on South Holladay Drive,” he added.
Unfortunately, for many streets, if wires are already overhead, “it gets wickedly expensive,” he said.
Any special commendations during the storm?
“I think everybody overall,” Wallace said. “I think it is hard to single out people, because so many people just did what they could to make it happen in so many different areas.
“Whether it is a storm or you’ve got a main break, that’s when the public works guys kind of shine,” he continued. “When they respond to fix some things, that’s when they look the best.”