How loud can you say tsunami?

Sep 16, 2010 | 3 comments

Traveling North on Sandridge

     Only about half of the people I’ve talked with heard the tsunami warning siren yesterday.  The other half either did not hear it at all, or it was so faint that, had they not been expecting it, there would have been no recognition at all.  Once again, our ‘Disaster Preparedness’ in Pacific County is a joke.  And not a very funny one at that.
     Years ago – at least 15 – the school district had a meeting for all employees.  It was with some of the disaster gurus who were going to help us figure out what to do in case of a tsunami or other large-scale disaster.  “What would you do, for instance, if all communication lines were down on the peninsula?  How would you get information rapidly from one end of the beach to the other?”
     “Start a rumor,” was my smartass reply.  It got a big laugh but, sadly, it was as good an answer as was forthcoming from the experts.  I don’t think anyone suggested that each school be equipped with ham radio gear and a staff member or two trained to operate it.  That’s a trick we learned about in the Big Storm of 2007 but I don’t know if the school district picked up on it.
     And then there are the tsunami signs that suddenly appeared up and down the peninsula a few years back.  Visitors still ask us about them.  “Why do the arrows point west?  Isn’t that where the danger is likely to come from?”  The stories are legion about people following the arrows and finding that they are traveling in circles or getting nowhere at all.  “Where are they supposed to lead you?” people ask.  We tell them that they point towards higher ground.  Slightly higher.  There just isn’t much except flat here.
     There is higher ground at the south end of the peninsula, though.  Unfortunately, we may only have 20 minutes to get there.  Given the possible routes, the possible traffic, and all the other possibles, Oysterville residents would find that southern high ground solution impossible.  The highest ground near us is the Oysterville Cemetery.  My plan is to hightail it up there and hug a tree.  At least I’d be in the right area should things go wrong.
     When I was young, we called them “tidal waves.”  My grandfather always said we’d never have one here.  Something about the continental shelf extending so far off the shore.  My grandfather wasn’t a scientist, however, and I’m told that the evidence nowadays says we are definitely due for ‘the big one.’  Maybe overdue.
     I guess I take the ostrich approach.  First, I hope my grandfather was right.  Second, I hope that if he was wrong, I’ll be somewhere else, not on the peninsula.  And probably the least likely hope of all is that we will have ample warning – real warning, not just a wimpy siren that we cannot hear.


  1. Jim Courtnier

    You have precisely identified the same considerations that we had when we selected the peninsula for our home, with the possible exception of visiting Chief Nacotti. We rarely hear the warning sirens unless we are outside, and there is a westerly breeze. Ultimately our decision was that there are many risks but we are on higher ground than many of our neighbors. There might be added safely in the upper floor of our house. Frankly, rescue would be overwhelmed with this far-end of the peninsula being low priority. We also decided that we should stock a few extra cans of Dinty Moore just in case we have starving refugee visitors. All would be welcome.

  2. Brigid

    Great read. Especially, being in the correct place, the cemetery. I think your grandfather was right about the coast line. We have had opportunities and not a oversized ripple has developed. The warning in about 1986 , I was out mowing the lawn on Pioneer Road and Hal Norman was yelling at me with his loud speaker, couldn’t tell what he was saying so I waved and kept mowing. When I got in the house the phone was ringing, it was my sister in Vancouver asking me why I was still there. A tsunami is coming she ways. I called the Coast Guard and asked about the size of the expected wave. The girls says, “About 105-107 feet.” WHAT. I got Tommy in the Volvo, Dan wouldn’t come. Picked up Min Stucki in Chinook, Carl wouldn’t come. And headed to Longview. No traffic at all on the roads, everyone had gone to the local hills for a big party. Dan and Carl sat on the rocks in Chinook and waited. Needless to say, no tsunami. Last time I had any sympathy for the movement to protect the peninsula.

  3. Stephanie Frieze

    Dave, whose hearing isn’t all that, was working inside our Ilwaco house and didn’t hear the warning. Mychael Clarson was manning the chop saw in the yard and actually heard it, but I think we’d better not count on an auditory warning. Where are the Cold War sirens? At least you could hear those. This summer I heard something and thought it was the Good Humor Man which we don’t have here, went out in the yard, could hear someone speaking from on high and concluded it must be God but couldn’t make out what he was saying. Perhaps we ought to wear life vests at all times.


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