Tsunami Legacy Lives with People of Crescent City

Crescent City's Battery Point Lighthouse. Credit: Cindy Carpien, NPR. i i

Crescent City's Battery Point Lighthouse still stands today despite facing the brunt of the 1964 tsunami. Credit: Cindy Carpien, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Credit: Cindy Carpien, NPR
Crescent City's Battery Point Lighthouse. Credit: Cindy Carpien, NPR.

Crescent City's Battery Point Lighthouse still stands today despite facing the brunt of the 1964 tsunami.

Credit: Cindy Carpien, NPR
Crescent City’s tsunami warning siren. Credit: Cindy Carpien, NPR. i i

Allen Winogradov, Del Norte County's emergency services coordinator, interviewed by Richard Gonzalez next to Crescent City's tsunami warning siren. The device is a 1960s-vintage civil defense siren. Cindy Carpien, NPR. hide caption

itoggle caption Cindy Carpien, NPR.
Crescent City’s tsunami warning siren. Credit: Cindy Carpien, NPR.

Allen Winogradov, Del Norte County's emergency services coordinator, interviewed by Richard Gonzalez next to Crescent City's tsunami warning siren. The device is a 1960s-vintage civil defense siren.

Cindy Carpien, NPR.
Memorial at Tsunami Landing. Credit: Cindy Carpien, NPR. i i

Crescent City's memorial plaque to the 11 who died in the 1964 tsunami. It is located in an open-air downtown mall called Tsunami Landing. Cindy Carpien, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Cindy Carpien, NPR
Memorial at Tsunami Landing. Credit: Cindy Carpien, NPR.

Crescent City's memorial plaque to the 11 who died in the 1964 tsunami. It is located in an open-air downtown mall called Tsunami Landing.

Cindy Carpien, NPR

1964 Tsunami: Part 1

Map of North America's west coast. i i

An earthquake just off the Alaskan coast triggered the tsunami that hit Crescent City, Calif., in 1964. hide caption

itoggle caption
Map of North America's west coast.

An earthquake just off the Alaskan coast triggered the tsunami that hit Crescent City, Calif., in 1964.

Tolowa Indian Tribe students preparing Tsunami-ready kits. Credit: Cindy Carpien, NPR.

Tolowa Indian Tribe students prepare Tsunami-ready kits for their families. They prepare two buckets: one for food and one for supplies to last 72 hours. From left: Laura McAllister, Lacy Davis, Drew McAllister. Cindy Carpien, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Cindy Carpien, NPR

Crescent City, Calif., a small community of 3,000 just below the Oregon border, was left in shambles after a tsunami hit the town on Good Friday in 1964.

Many old-timers say Crescent City never really recovered. Quaint shops and stores were replaced by drab federal and state government buildings.

Eleven people died in Crescent city. Another four, the young McKenzie siblings, were swept away from a beach in Oregon. More than 100 businesses were damaged or destroyed in Crescent City. Damage estimates (in today's dollars) range as high as $350 million.

Scientists who came to study the tsunami's impact determined that the crescent shaped harbor that juts into Pacific Ocean is a magnet for tsunami, and that more will come.

In June 2005, Crescent City got such a scare when a massive earthquake off the Pacific Northwest coast set off a tsunami alert. Residents were better prepared this time. About 4,000 people were evacuated from the town. While it proved to be a false alert, Crescent City officials learned a lesson: Their community’s isolation means that they would have to be self-sufficient for at least 72 hours.

Del Norte County Emergency Services Coordinator Allen Winogradov expressed his frustration with the lack of state or federal aid his community receives.

"All of my time is going towards managing grants to buy equipment for terrorism, which isn't our no. 1 concern in Del Norte County," Winogradov said. "Our no. 1 concern is floods, earthquakes and tsunamis."

Geologists say the likely cause of the next tsunami will be a geological feature called the Cascadia Subduction Zone, a 700-mile-long fault that runs from California to British Columbia.

The fault is where two of the massive plates making up the earth's crust grind together. The edge of one is forced beneath the other. The enormous build up of pressure will eventually lead to an earthquake.

The last time it ruptured was in 1700. Troy Nicolini of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says coastal residents should take no comfort in that.

"Historically there have been very, very big tsunamis, and there will be big tsunamis [again]," Nicolini warned.

Susan Andrews of member station KHSU in Arcata, Calif., assisted in the reporting of this story.

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