With the 75th anniversary of D-Day on Thursday, the military treated Clatsop County residents to their own landing at Sunset Beach.
The Navy sent two hovercraft ashore on Monday as part of a dry run to deliver emergency supplies after a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake and tsunami. The Air Force delivered Humvees to the Astoria Regional Airport aboard two cargo planes.
The Clatsop County Office of Emergency Management coordinated the event with the Army, Navy, Coast Guard and state Military Department.
“The landing exercise was twofold,” said Tiffany Brown, the county’s emergency manager. “The first reason was to help us better understand the challenges and interface that will occur with the Navy if they show up to help us after a Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. The second part of it was for them to start establishing which beaches are suitable for landing.”
A large earthquake will likely cause large-scale damage to the region’s roadways. Air and sea have become the more likely routes of delivering supplies afterward. That idea crystalized during the Cascadia Rising emergency preparedness exercise in 2016, Brown said.
In 2017, the Navy’s Third Fleet, on its way to Seafair in Seattle, practiced landing supplies from an amphibious landing craft at South Beach Marina in Newport.
A recent assessment found several spots in the county for landing, including Gower Street in Cannon Beach, the Promenade in Seaside, 10th Street in Gearhart and Sunset Beach, chosen for Monday’s exercise.
The propellers of the Navy’s air-cushioned landing craft kicked up sand and water on Sunset Beach as hundreds of onlookers watched them hover in, deflate, drop off heavy vehicles, inflate and hover back out to sea atop the surf.
“We can land pretty much anything,” said Lt. Cmdr. Christopher McCurry, an executive officer aboard the USS Anchorage, a 634-foot amphibious landing dock where two hovercraft are stowed.
The hovercraft can reach 78% of the world’s coastlines with far more mobility than World War II-era craft, McCurry said. While the Anchorage, commissioned in 2011, has yet to respond to a natural disaster, other readiness groups supported responses to Hurricane Katrina, the Sulawesi earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
Ships like the Anchorage can get underway within 96 hours after local authorities ask for federal assistance. “We might be able to get on faster depending on what we’re bringing,” McCurry said.
The Anchorage can carry water purification systems, water tanks, mobile hospitals and medical personnel. Teams from the ship can set up field hospitals or take people onboard for treatment. Aircraft aboard can perform search and rescue operations.
While the Navy landed supplies from hovercraft on the beach, the 173rd Fighter Wing in Klamath Falls flew them into the airport. Two cargo planes — one from Japan and another from Little Rock, Arkansas — took turns landing at the local airport, unloading Humvees, reloading and taking off.
Senior Master Sgt. Jennifer Shirar, a spokeswoman for the 173rd, said the unit is used to flying fighter planes and wanted to practice staging cargo planes to provide relief.
“If the Cascadia event were to occur, Klamath Falls should not be as affected as our coastal regions,” she said. “We wanted to see if we could be a staging area.
“We’re all Oregonians, and if something like this were to happen, we would be responding.”
Before the Cascadia Rising exercise, many senior leaders from across the country had no idea about the dangers the region faces, Brown said.
“No one was aware of it,” she said. “They were aware of the New Madrid Fault, because most of them were on the East Coast,” she said of the seismic zone in the South and Midwest. “That regional exercise was a real shot in the arm for us as a region, for the rest of the country to have a better understanding of what the impacts of this event are going to look like.”