Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Yesterday at 4:26 p.m.
Crescent City, Del Norte OES plans tsunami evacuation drill for October
• Updated tsunami maps show new hazards and will be released on Japan’s 10-year earthquake commemoration
Emergency officials in Crescent City and Del Norte County will build on lessons learned in 2011 and put new flood maps to the test during a tsunami evacuation drill in October.
Scheduled for 10 a.m. Oct. 27, the drill is necessary for Crescent City to retain its TsunamiReady community designation, said Maia Mello, county emergency services manager, at the Wild Rivers outpost.
The exercise also comes as Del Norte County prepares to seek its own TsunamiReady Community designation, according to Mello.
Authorities will distribute door hangers and cards to residents, businesses and visitors, activate the emergency alert system and call sirens. The Flynn Center gymnasium will be a temporary evacuation point, Mello told colleagues from multiple agencies on Thursday. The County Office of Emergency Services will establish a triplex of shelters at First Baptist Church, Foursquare Church and the County Gymnasium, she said.
“We are in a tsunami nightmare zone and for us not to continue planning exercises is a missed opportunity,” Mello told his colleagues. “Informing the public is always an objective. We have to strive to reach everyone, not just those who live in the tsunami area, but those who come to work in the tsunami area, who come to shop in the tsunami area, who come to the park.
Communities renew their TsunamiReady designation every four years, said Ryan Aylward, representative of the Redwood Coast Tsunami Work Group. To do this, they need to organize some kind of preparation exercise, although it does not have to be a full exercise, he said.
Crescent City held tsunami evacuation drills in 2010 and 2014, the latter commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Good Friday earthquake and tsunami, which killed 12 people locally.
There had been a plan to hold a countywide evacuation drill, Aylward said, but COVID kept local emergency responders busy.
Other TsunamiReady communities and organizations in Del Norte County include the Yurok Tribe and Klamath Town Site as well as Redwood National and State Parks, according to Aylward.
Crescent City got lucky on March 11, 2011. It had about eight hours to prepare for surges from Japan’s Tohoku earthquake, City Manager Eric Wier said. Many citizens had participated in this 2010 exercise and knew that if you are in downtown Crescent City, safety is north of 9th Street.
Most of the surges also happened at low tide, Wier said. Had it been otherwise, Crescent City could have had a repeat of the 1964 Good Friday earthquake and tsunami, he said. Twelve people died in the 1964 tsunami in Crescent City.
“When we were alerted in the middle of the night to the Japanese earthquake and the impending tsunami, luckily we had some time and were able to prepare for it,” Wier told the Outpost. “Once we got the information, people knew what to do and their area and it was fresh in their minds. It was a bit different because it was a distant source event.
In October, Crescent City residents, business owners and visitors will prepare for a tsunami that can strike 10 minutes after feeling the quake, Wier said. The jolt can be strong enough to knock someone down, he said.
According to Aylward, the tsunami evacuation drill in October will be based on updated flood maps released in 2021. These new maps place the Del Norte County Fairgrounds entirely within the flood zone, a change from 2009 which had half the facility outside the danger zone, he said.
“Now you have to go a little further if you’re out there,” Aylward told the Outpost.
To be considered TsunamiReady, a community must have mapped its tsunami hazard areas, include information regarding its vulnerability to tsunamis in its FEMA-approved Multiple Hazard Mitigation Plan, and post signs notifying the public when they are in a danger zone and where the evacuation routes are.
Other steps a community must take to become TsunamiReady include public awareness and education campaigns in their public schools. According to Aylward, communities in Del Norte County that have not yet achieved TsunamiReady status have met most of the criteria. They just need to hold the evacuation drill, Aylward said.
Mello said she plans to schedule flood zone evacuations for outlying county communities next year. She pointed out that each coastal community, including Smith River and Fort Dick, has its own flood maps.
Participation in the exercise is not required, Aylward said. People can tell if they’re in a danger zone, assemble a Go Bag and make sure their furniture is anchored to the wall so they don’t fall over during an earthquake, and practice their route.
“All you have to do is go for a walk,” Aylward said.