SEASIDE — There wasn’t exactly a “wave” of people participating in the tsunami emergency drill in Seaside Wednesday, but those who did hike to the hills said it was a worthwhile exercise.

About 45 people, plus 337 students from Broadway Middle School, walked to designated assembly areas on high ground after emergency sirens went off at 11 a.m.

Another 435 Seaside High School students and the faculty walked to 12th Avenue and Shore Terrace, with most making it in about 19 minutes.

“The siren was marvelous,” said Mayor Don Larson, who, with his wife Lois, headed for the south end of Sunset Boulevard and Tillamook Head at the Cove. “It had wonderful coverage; it was very audible.”

But, while the mayor was happy with the siren, which blasted a message in English and Spanish that what was about to take place was only a drill, he wasn’t happy with the turnout of participants.

“I’m very disappointed that we didn’t see people coming from all different directions,” Larson said. “It’s a long walk. I would have liked to have seen everyone come up.”

But for some, the drill offered an opportunity to test their evacuation skills.

“I grew up here; I was here in ’64. I respect tsunamis,” said Walter Daggatt, who walked swiftly up Sunset Boulevard as he talked.

The distant 1964 tsunami followed a magnitude 9.2 Alaskan earthquake that occurred in Prince William Sound. Although the distant tsunami wasn’t anything close to what could happen on the North Coast if a nearby tsunami struck, four people in Newport and 12 people in Crescent City, Calif. died from the tsunami. It damaged buildings and bridges in Seaside and Cannon Beach.

Brooke Johnson said she didn’t used to worry about tsunamis, but, as a former volunteer firefighter, she was aware of them. Her husband also volunteers for the Seaside Fire Department.

“I do worry now because I have kids,” Johnson said.

That’s why she was hoofing it up Sunset Boulevard with a stroller carrying Lydia, 3, and Aiden, 8 months. It took her 11 minutes to go from the junction of Edgewood and Sunset to within a few hundred feet of the assembly area.

State Rep. Deborah Boone, of Cannon Beach, went to the Cove to listen to the siren.

“I’m just being Joe citizen today,” she said.

When the public address message sounded, she praised its loudness, but the recording of the Spanish speaker seemed garbled, she said.

“I know when I go to the next OSSPAC (Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission) meeting, they’re going to want to know how everything turned out,” Boone said.

At the designated assembly area on Cooper Street and Huckleberry Drive, Joan Butterfield, a member of the Seaside Tsunami Amateur Radio Society, and Stan Schwenk, of the Tsunami Awareness Group, stood by themselves. No one hiked up the long path leading from across the Avenue S Bridge, across U.S. Highway 101 to Avenue S, along Avenue S to Cooper and up the hill to Huckleberry.

“It’s very sad,” Butterfield said. “I know it started to rain, and that may have discouraged people.

“But when an earthquake comes, it could be rainy. This is a good time to find out how long it takes,” she said.

Despite the disappointing turnout, Butterfield said the city should wait to conduct another drill.

“We need more education first. If people don’t get the significance of it, they won’t understand” why they should participate in the drill, she said.

The 337 Broadway Middle School students walked quietly and orderly up the Broadway hill to Hilltop Drive in 13 minutes, 18 seconds. Tsunami experts say that a tsunami could hit the beach about 20 minutes after an earthquake in the Cascadia subduction zone about 50 miles offshore.

Principal Doug Pease was happy with their accomplishment. “Our goal was 15 minutes,” he said.

Following the drill, Hal Denison, of Seaside, a volunteer auxiliary emergency coordinator for Clatsop County, sat in his car taking reports from fellow ham radio operators stationed at the assembly areas. One by one, they reported their numbers – 10 at the Cove, six at Seaside Heights, 13 at Lewis and Clark Road – and signed off.

Only 19 walkers – outside of the Broadway Middle School kids – made it to Denison’s assembly area on Broadway and Hilltop Drive.

“With 19, it indicates it’s raining,” Denison said. “The city of Seaside did everything it could to publicize the drill.”

Practice is important, he said, because it’s unknown how many obstacles people may have to overcome to arrive at a safe place.

“We’ll have the shaking first,” he said about the earthquake. “I’m sure this road will be in three or four pieces. It’s going to be terrible. I know I won’t be able to get here, and I live at the bottom of this hill.”

So why even bother to try to get to the assembly area?

Because once people arrive, they will be directed to houses on the hill where emergency supplies are located, Denison said.

He has two “go-bags” to grab when the earthquake begins. They’re filled with ham radio equipment.

“I also have a hand-truck with a battery so I can operate (the radios) for a week if I can get up the hill. I don’t have any food in the bags; my energy goes into the radio stuff.

“You’ve seen those signs? Mine will say, “I do ham radio for food.

“It’s tricky, because you don’t know what’s going to happen or when it’s going to happen, but you know it’s going to happen.”

Another operator called in to make a final report. Denison signed him off, adding, “This is a drill, a drill, a drill. This is a drill.”

Seaside Planning Director Kevin Cupples, who organized the drill, said he was pleased that the six sirens went off well. As for the relatively few people who participated, Cupples took it in stride. Many residents have busy lives, he said, and it’s not always easy to do in the middle of the day. They can always practice an evacuation, even when there’s not a citywide drill, he added.

“It would be great if a lot of people turned out, but it’s important if any people do,” Cupples said. 

    

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