Life in Bay Center on Willapa Bay

Living in a maritime fishing village in Southwest Washington state on Willapa Bay

Local agencies react to storm as best they can despite tough conditions

at Chinook Observer, Wednesday, Dec 5, 2007

Local Agencies react to storm as best they can despite tough conditions 

PACIFIC COUNTY – According to County Commissioner Jon Kaino, Pacific County’s Emergency Operations Center was activated early Monday morning, but was unable to reach much of the county without any means of direct communication with residents.

The center was able to release some information to Seattle and Olympia radio stations, but such radio frequencies couldn’t reach much of south county during the sustained 70 to 80 mph winds Monday. With phone lines down and cell towers inoperable, information became scarce across southwest Washington and the Oregon Coast.

Conditions were so dangerous part of the time that even physically delivering information was impossible, particularly considering the condition of area streets and highways. At 8:15 a.m. Monday, an emergency dispatcher said “Due to the weather, pretty much every highway is blocked in Pacific County.” Major closures included Interstate 5, Washington State Route 4, Oregon Highways 30 and 26, and U.S. 101. Most are now open, except for SR6 between Raymond and Centralia, which may be out of commission for weeks due to a major landslide near Elma.

“Activation and response went fairly well, what was lacking was communication,” explains Kaino. “We were doing things, but no one knew it. We had shelters and help from the National Guard, but we had no communication to let people know what we have done. … We’re performing an enormous amount of welfare checks since phone calls are limited to the same prefix.”

Kaino says while radio communications are working, even the county’s satellite phones have not been reliable.

In Astoria, New Northwest Broadcasters produced regular radio updates throughout the duration of the storm. In addition to taking phone calls from Astoria area residents, Paul Mitchell and his staff spoke with Clatsop area representatives and crews to keep listeners informed. Flying sheet metal and other debris was reported throughout Clatsop County, specifically Seaside and further south. But the station was unable to provide any information about Pacific County until Tuesday.

For some, the storm illicited memories of the dangerous affects of a Northwest storm that tore through the coast more than 45 years ago. At the time of the historical Columbus Day storm in 1962, Kaino was only four years old, but recalls stories that put that storm into context compared to what we’ve just experienced.

“That one blew harder but it was here and gone in eight hours. But this storm was 48 hours of hell,” he said.

Official update

Radio reports stated that gusts of 84 mph were reported near Youngs River Monday morning and reports were also received that Grays River County saw water crashing over the jetty and logs were floating down water-filled streets.

There are some flooded areas in other parts of the county, but little to none reported on the Peninsula. Fortunately, the county has received a good response from the state and the National Guard.

Pacific County Administrative Officer Bryan Harrison said as of Wednesday morning, 30 percent of the county had power. Areas from Chinook to Cranberry Road in north Long Beach were up and running, as well as parts of Naselle – the rest of the county remains in the dark.

Four outside crews were working on incoming lines in Raymond, and public works crews in South Bend have received assistance from the National Guard to clear roads. After arriving late Tuesday night, the National Guard also helped with generators and hauling food to a newly established shelter at South Bend Elementary. The school is open to provide food, shelter and Red Cross services to whoever may need it.

“There’s good chance that the main parts of downtown areas across the county could have electricity by tomorrow,” says Harrison.

The EOC advises that residents countywide should turn all of their breakers off with the exception of one light to alert them when the power comes back on.

“Cold starting the whole system could cause damages or further delay,” advised Harrison. “Turn things on slowly over a two-hour period, flick on another breaker to warm it up slowly otherwise there could be a tremendous surge that could put us back.”

At the time of publication, EOC was working to get emergency response to residents stuck on impassible roads. Trees had been removed to make most major county roads passable, but drivers should use caution since some roads still have tree debris or muddy spots. Highway 101 has opened back up in north county after some tree removal, making a clear path to Aberdeen. But Harrison said it may be a struggle to get to Olympia, but it is possible.

According to Kaino, Ocean Park and surrounding areas could have electricity back by late Wednesday.

Ocean Beach School Superintendent Rainer Houser said Wednesday that classes will resume Thursday in Long Beach and Ilwaco, but that Ocean Park remained uncertain. PUD hopes to have the lights back on there Wednesday evening.

Businesses help out

Weather conditions seemed to improve Tuesday, as Cottage Bakery owners Bob and Judi Andrew were open for business, serving customers biscuits and gravy, soup, chili, chowder, oatmeal, sandwiches, desserts, coffee and hot chocolate by the light of Coleman lanterns. The couple arrived in the early morning hours to start up a few breakfast staples and greeted some dedicated employees as they came to help with the effort.

“It was interesting but everyone was so helpful, it was easy to be open when people are patient,” explains Judi. “Everybody was patient and trying to help everyone. We were trying to find out if anyone was trapped in their homes and needed food deliveries. We wanted to know what we could do to keep community going. …We feel very fortunate in our business and our home. There were a lot of folks helping each other with food and gas. …We were able to help our customers, we did the best we could and to not let people go hungry.”

While the Andrews were able to feed their customers in the past few days, the choices are getting a little slim – shipments via semi were expected from Beaverton several days ago. But with so many phone lines down, they haven’t been able to make contact with any of their suppliers.

“We’re out of a lot of stuff, but we’re open to the best of our ability. We’re open, but need those raw ingredients to restock the rest. Produce should be coming tomorrow, but we’re not sure about meat or anything else.”

Not far away, Sid’s Market in Seaview was also serving customers but had to work fast when it came to some produce. According to store manager Chuck Winn, the store gave away ice cream before it melted and quite a bit of meat had to be thrown away.

Tom Downer, owner of Jack’s Country Store in Ocean Park, was out pumping gas Wednesday, helping as much as feasibly possible.

“We’re getting by, people are very understanding and patient,” said Downer.

Insurance tips

According to agents at Strand Insurance in Long Beach, area damage can be summed up in two words – it’s bad. And unfortunately, it is only the beginning. Agents are receiving claims for wind-related damage, such as detached roots and downed trees damaging homes, sheds, garages and cars. In addition, calls received from Vernonia and surrounding areas are reporting flood damage. Over the next few days, they expect to find more residents with large amounts of spoiled food as well as damaged appliances from any sort of power surge.

“I think this is bad. For me, this is the worst storm I’ve seen since the early 80s,” says Strand Insurance Agent Marla Johnson. “The worst part of it is that we have so many summer homes here – some people may not know what the damage is until they arrive for vacation. So residents should do their best to contact their neighbors at this time.”

Anyone that has roof damage should take photos of the damage and secure a tarp over the affected areas as the homeowners are responsible for protecting it from further damage.

Insurance companies advise residents to take photos of any damage and file a claim with their insurance provider as soon as possible. From there, an insurance adjuster can help you figure out what to do next.

Strand suggests that in the future, residents should be prepared with flashlight and radio batteries, propane lanterns (and extra propane bottles), water (especially if your home is on a well), canned goods, a full gas tank in their vehicle, additional fuel for a generator, games and puzzles available (especially if children are in the home), plenty of blankets and to have cash on hand before the storm arrives. Johnson also advises locals to safely secure pets indoors or in a sheltered area since some animals tend to dart at the first signs of a storm.

Most county offices are open for business but building permits, licenses and other paperwork may take longer than normal.

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