It is hard to believe that 10 years have passed since the North Coast was hit by the Great Coastal Gale.
Our anniversary coverage in The Daily Astorian today brings back memories for those of us who endured and survived.
Nearly constant rain accompanied by winds gusting up to 147 mph hit the region in December 2007, with felled power lines and trees, widespread and lengthy electricity outages and considerable disruption.
While we remember the stories of courage and fortitude of neighbors helping neighbors, it is timely to ponder what we learned from the experience.
The biggest takeaway can be summed up in two sentences:
• Don’t expect immediate outside help
• Be prepared for next time
The very nature of our location on the coast puts us amid the splendid natural beauty of the confluence of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. Of course, this also means that there are only four ways to get here by road.
The disruption in flood-prone Tillamook County and the swath of felled timber in Pacific and Wahkiakum counties in Washington state meant the U.S. Highway 101 access route north or south was not an option, especially with dangerously high winds buffeting the Astoria Bridge and Washington Highway 4 covered in tree limbs all the way east to Longview.
U.S. Highways 30 and 26, our usual east-west lifelines inland to the Willamette Valley, were blocked to regular traffic for days because trees falling on power lines made passage dangerous and frequently impossible.
In the aftermath of the storm, some North Coast leaders were critical of the apparent lack of any early response from the state of Oregon. But frankly, with the access problems to our area, and the devastating flooding in Vernonia and elsewhere, it was always unlikely we would receive prompt aid.
That meant we had to cope on our own.
And cope we did.
Police and firefighters throughout our community worked long hours ensuring residents’ safety. Our cities and Clatsop County government activated emergency coordinating centers to address priorities. Camp Rilea proved an important resource. Radio stations and this newspaper worked long and late to provide residents with the most accurate information. Church leaders and private citizens rallied in a most good-neighborly manner to provide shelter and food. At our two county hospitals, Columbia Memorial and Providence Seaside, nursing staff stayed on duty for days to care for the most vulnerable among us.
Agencies that contributed greatly to easing our pain included the Pacific Power linemen, the Clatsop County road crews, and the Oregon Department of Transportation personnel who literally risked their lives to help clear the highways and work to turn the electricity back on.
The Coast Guard played a key role, too, as it does year-round, although some resources were diverted inland to Centralia and Chehalis, where brave helicopter crews rescued residents from the rooftops of their homes as the floodwaters rose.
As we tip our hats to all those who pitched in, we need to call upon that trusty Boy Scout motto once again with all seriousness.
We must be prepared for the next weather-related natural disaster. The very nature of where we live makes some sort of repeat incident inevitable. It may be a similar prolonged storm with hurricane-force gusts. Or, it may be a tsunami from a quake off our Pacific Coast. The exact type of incident may vary, but planning our response should not.
Drills, preparedness discussions and budgeting government money for proper emergency responses need to continue to make sure we are ready. This spending of our limited tax dollars is not a luxury.
And private citizens should remember they will survive more easily with a plan, rather than improvising when disaster hits.
Parents should talk with their children about what to do in the event of an emergency, especially the need to avoid taking risks. Every family should put together a basic survival kit, including flashlights, batteries, drinking water, blankets and nonperishable food stocks. This should be updated on a regular basis — for example, replacing batteries and food items with newer items. When weather forecasts are dire, fueling family vehicles and checking tires is an excellent strategy, because once the power goes out, gas station pumps cease normal operations.
We are optimistic that when the next big storm hits, we will all cope much better than last time. We have learned much. And some changes, including the tree clearance program and widening along Highway 30, and some additional work on Highway 26, should make east-west access somewhat better.
But we are still vulnerable.
The flip side of living in this most gorgeous part of the United States makes the threat of more severe weather a constant.
We can cope best if we are prepared.