CANNON BEACH - With a cloudless sky and an endless view of the ocean 160 feet below the hill, it was tough to think about disasters Sunday.

But, in between bites of roasted chicken, potato salad and brownies, that's what everyone at the potluck talked about. What will they do, they asked each other, when a tsunami comes ashore in Cannon Beach?

Several of those attending the potluck already knew: They will hike up the hill to Eighth and Oak streets to the house where they were now, a house they are becoming quite familiar with.

Owned by Les and Myrna Wierson, the four-bedroom house is one of at least four in north Cannon Beach that will become "safe houses" during disasters. The Wiersons have invited several neighbors below their hill to use the house, and, as part of a "buddy" system, those neighbors have access to the keys, know where emergency supplies are stored, how to shut off the gas and water and other essentials.

The "buddies" also can store their own supplies at the house so they won't be slowed by a heavy load while climbing the steep hill to the Wiersons' house.

Although the "buddies" have met a few times to come up with "house rules" - no weapons, no smoking inside and no sleeping on top of the pool table - Sunday's potluck offered opportunities to talk and to learn where other safe houses are being located.

"We wanted to get to know each other better, so we picked this day and time to do it," said Les Wierson. "We felt if we had a strong cluster of safe houses, our own house would be safe."

Don and Jan Stastny, John and Jane Emrick and Molly Edison, who live near the Wiersons, also plan to open their houses.

"We figured if we're going to have 1,000 people up here, we had to do something," said Jan Stastny.

A recent study conducted by scientists from Oregon State University estimated that 1,000 people could be seeking shelter on the north side when a tsunami arrives.

By finding "buddies" to stay in their houses, the homeowners solve two problems at once: how to protect their neighbors as well as their houses.

"I think the issue is finding somebody who can open the house and do everything if we're not available," Jan Stastny said.

Being prepared to take care of others is also a way to "honor the community," said Don Stastny.

"We understand that when a disaster like that happens, we have to work together," he added.

Molly Edison has already rounded up her "buddies" who will come to her four-bedroom home on three-quarters of an acre on Ecola Park Road.

"My house is high enough and safe enough, and I have plenty of room," said Edison, who also attended the potluck. "Any lives we can save are important. I tell anybody I know that if they want to come, they're welcome."

Because Edison and Les Wierson are members of the city's emergency preparedness committee and have studied the potential for an earthquake and tsunami to hit the North Coast, they hope to encourage others in town to open their houses.

Committee Chairman Bill Brehm lives two miles south of the Wiersons' house in the Tolovana Park area. Because of nearby land depressions under the ocean, scientists have deemed Tolovana to be especially vulnerable to early tsunami assaults.

Brehm agreed that safe houses on higher ground in areas throughout downtown, midtown and east of U.S. Highway 101 would provide shelter alternatives. The committee, he said, would help to promote safe houses.

With the recent tsunami in Japan, more people are aware of the devastating effects of an earthquake and a tsunami. Some Oregon scientists, who have been able to map previous tsunamis, predict that the Cascadia subduction quake and tsunami could happen sometime between now and the next 30 years.

"If this happens, everyone is going to have to step in and help," Edison said.

Along with conversation and condiments, the potluck also enabled those attending to view new maps that will be distributed soon. The maps display evacuation routes that lead to higher ground throughout the city.

The Wiersons also set up a tent with sleeping bags and a fire pit in their driveway to show what evacuees might need to stay warm and dry during a disaster.

Mike and Stacy Benefield, and their son, Will, attended the potluck. Wes Wahrman and Jan Siebert-Wahrman joined them. They all live below the hill and are the Wiersons' house "buddies."

"A lot of people talk about what they could do and should do, said Mike Benefield, "but it's nice that someone is actually doing something.

"Even if it (a disaster) doesn't happen, it's nice to know there's a house that you can get to and be with other people," he added.

The Benefields have an emergency backpack, and they plan to store some supplies with the Wiersons. Those provisions include dog food for their three dogs, which the Wiersons have told them are welcome.

Wes Wahrman, whose house could be in the path of a tsunami that rushes into Ecola Creek, called the safe house plan "essential."

"I timed it, and if I push it, it's eight minutes to Les's house," he said.

 

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