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Southern Exposure: How Seaside weathered the Great Coastal Gale of 2007

Community leaders recall a week without power, lessons learned
By R.J. Marx

The Daily Astorian

Published on December 12, 2017 12:01AM

Trees down in front of a Seaside home in the wake of the Great Coastal Gale of 2007.

Tom Horning

Trees down in front of a Seaside home in the wake of the Great Coastal Gale of 2007.

What became known as the Great Coastal Gale hit the region in December 2007, knocking down thousands of trees, stranding residents and leaving thousands without power, many for more than a week.

Among those who weathered the storm, a notable group stepped forward to work to ensure the safety and well-being of Seaside’s residents.

Mary Blake, the former director of Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District, helped set up a shelter at the Bob Chisholm Community Center. Lt. Chris Dugan was among the firefighters who cleared debris, battled blazes as they broke out and helped those in need. Seaside School District Superintendent Doug Dougherty addressed concerns of students and their families. Keith Chandler, general manager of Seaside Aquarium, helped keep fish and aquatic life alive.

Here are their stories:

Mary Blake

The storm came in, and as always, the community center was the heart and soul for a lot of people.

Not just for the safety elements, but it was the support of people who were rightfully fearful from the scary aspects of a big event.

We turned the community center into a 24-hour area where for three days we served breakfast, lunch and dinner. We had a little ukulele group do songs. We set up our park and recreation programs for kids to have a play area. Everybody was welcome.

The city was able to get a portable generator and we set it up outside. That gave us life.

It was Christmastime, so we had Christmas lights on the outside as well as the inside of the facility. Between Dec. 3 and Dec. 8, it operated for 122 continuous hours.

We also had a check-in so people would sign in. So if somebody was worried about somebody at home or a loved one or they were out of the area, they could check in with us. We had over 2,000 signatures of people using the facility, and we served over 6,000 meals.

All the restaurants and all the people with their freezers knew they didn’t have enough electricity, before food became contaminated. We served up things like steaks, crab — some of the finest food you would ever find.

I slept in the shelter. We blew up a couple beds, and we set up our sleeping arrangements behind the counter. We sectioned off the card room, taped it off, so people had an assigned area they could set up their own little housekeeping.

If they needed to shower, they showered at the swimming pool.

We had a bus coordinated with the Providence Seaside Hospital if people needed any kind of emergency services. We coordinated people and volunteers and it was a sight to behold.

It gave us an insight into any kind of big event, whether it was a man-made emergency or natural causes. You become as resourceful as you possibly can. You are really operating from the heart so you have a lot of compassion for what is going on. You fall back into what you practice for safety and survival.

People depended on the leadership that they had always counted on, whether or not it was going to the pool and having a good lifeguard to make sure they are safe in the water or driving in the streets of Seaside.

Our mayor, Don Larson, would always check in, which reassured people. Then we started to get the higher-level elected officials come in just to check out the damage. The people of the community really sprung into action.

In the end, the storm had so many positive things to really reinforce the people how strong we are together.

It was an incident that probably was one of my proudest moments.

Lt. Chris Dugan

The first day, it was really starting to get a little nasty out, but no more than that. I remember going down to dispatch and it was probably within 10 minutes all heck broke loose. It seemed the wind blew, it rained, it just didn’t stop. It was just ongoing.

One thing I remember is the phones being off and the power being off. We really expected one or both of them to come back very soon — and they never did.

We couldn’t get calls to dispatch. We had trapped communities, trapped areas, where trees were down with no access to them. So we spent time getting trees out of the way.

(Firefighter) Doug Barker and I made an inventory of all the power lines down, all the trees down. We made a map of the city of where the issues were so we could hand it out to power company and public works.

I actually lived at the station for that week. There was a room available upstairs, so I slept up there. I basically went on all the calls possible.

The community center got a generator from Camp Rilea. I remember helping them get that set up at the back of their building so we could get heat and lights in there.

As a whole I really think it brought us altogether. We worked together and we made it through that. The power’s on and we’re talking on the phone.

That’s where our resilience is going to be really tested.

Doug Dougherty

I can’t believe it has been 10 years since the storm. I remember we had a few days to prepare for strong winds. The storm was to hit the coast on Sunday. Most school districts canceled school for Monday and prepared their buildings. I remember that the sky was clear and calm for a very long time that Sunday. When the storm finally hit, the heavy winds sounded like a train that went on for hours. Trees and cell towers toppled and the power was out for many days.

On Monday morning, the winds were still raging but I went out to check in at the emergency operations center at the Seaside Police Department to determine the overall damage. I then checked on the schools. Downed trees blocked streets. Trees were blown down at each school.

I was very impressed and thankful that a number of community members checked in on their neighbors, bringing chainsaws and needed supplies. After several days, food in freezers began to thaw. I know of at least one good Samaritan who had a portable generator and would provide an hour or so of additional power to refreeze refrigerators. Personally, natural gas allowed us to use our fireplace, stove, and hot water heater — so we were better off than many.

After experiencing the lack of communication during the aftermath, I had all administrators and supervisors take ham radio classes and bought them portable ham radios for emergencies. One other thing we have noticed is there are a large number of fifth-grade students who will be turning 10 about the same time this year.

Keith Chandler

We have a gas-powered pump for the fish at the aquarium. When the power went out, we had to man that pump for five days, for 24 hours a day. Every two hours and 15 minutes it had to be refueled. The more challenging part was getting gas to run the pumps, because there wasn’t power to any of the gas stations either. Fortunately, a former employee who had a landscaping company, Tom Thies, had several gas cans at his house and he brought them over for us to use. He wasn’t mowing lawns that week. He knew our situation with our power out, and he brought us all his gas.

We used that, then we siphoned the gas out of our trucks.

After the second day, Fred Meyer got power, so we could go to Fred Meyer and get gas.

As long as the pump was working, the circulation worked for all the fish. The seals, they were fine. We have a system set up where we actually use city water to fill the seal tank. But after five days of not being able to pump water from the ocean, we were getting low on the reserve. That was a concern, too.

We were always watching the outside of the building. Our biggest concern was the big sign that hangs out on the Prom. There was one point where the bolts started to come loose. We had to hang out of the windows upstairs and bolt those back in. I had someone else hanging onto my feet so I would not be blown away.

I camped out here for a day and a half before my co-worker came in to relieve me.

R.J. Marx is The Daily Astorian’s South County reporter and editor of the Seaside Signal and Cannon Beach Gazette.


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