Stone Refuge

The brick building at the corner of Front and F Streets was one of the first permanent structures in the city. The two story building was built to house a store on the ground floor, but was never used for that purpose.

Instead it served as a Wells Fargo Express Office and the Darby and Saville Saloon. On the second floor was theater that could seat 200 people, with a number of performances held there, including those starring a young Lotta Crabtree in 1857 and 58.

In 1906 the building was sold to John Childs. While he owned it, the place became the headquarters for the local paper, known than as the Crescent City News.

Nearly 62 years later the old building was part of a redevelopment area. It was surrounded by water when the 1964 tsunami struck the city, however it remained mostly undamaged.

Three years later, in September 1967, the building was destroyed by fire. Authorities were certian it was arson, but were never able to find the culpret or culprets who started the blaze.

At one point prior to the fire, it had been proposed that the Darby building be used as the home of the Del Norte Historical Society.  Still preserved on the grounds of an apartment complex constructed after much of the building was demolished is a stone wall. Near it reads a plaque: “Stone Refuge. In the interior of this block stands a relic of a stone building, which was once used by women and children during some Indian trouble in 1857.”


The Sylmar Shaker

For some reason Dad allowed me to take the week off from school so I could go with him as he completed a temporary duty assignment. It would be a very exciting week.

We arrived at the base in the early evening of Sunday, having driven all day long from about the time the sun came up. He and I quickly ate and hit the hay for the night.

The following day, Dad went to work and I stayed closed by the barracks. I do recall going to the base exchange and having to leave the soda and comic book I was going to buy at the check-out stand because I didn’t have my dependent ID card on me.

I was bored to death to say the least.

My Tuesday morning and afternoon was pretty much a repeat of the day before. I was happy to see my old man as I knew we would be going to get something to eat and then to check out a movie at the base theater; we talked of seeing “Raid on Rommel.”

I fell asleep quickly after getting back to our barracks room while Dad watched the local news.

Jus’ after six the next morning a magnitude 6.6 earthquake rattled through the San Fernando Valley.  Dad and I were practically rattled right out of our racks.

For nearly 12-hours, I helped by bandaging and splinting the injured Dad and other Air Force personnel pulled from damaged buildings on base and later at a hospital in the near-by town of Sylmar. It was life-lesson I never forgot — as it helped put me on the road to becoming a survival and first aid instructor and finally securing my paramedics certificate.

Needless to say — I was a very happy kid when Dad was released early from TDY to head home by Wednesday evening.

Crescent City Tsunamis: A Brief History

Since the tidal gauge was installed in Crescent City’s harbor in 1934, the town has been hit by 34 tsunamis. This time, the waves raced into the boat basin, ripping up docks, sinking 11 boats, damaging 47 others, killing one man and causing millions of dollars in damage.

Tsunamis are different from stormy seas. A storm wave is generated by the wind, moving only the top of the water.

A tsunami, however, is generated by an upheaval on the ocean floor. To a ship at sea, it’s not even noticeable — three to four feet high — a bump in the ocean.

This tsunami was generated by one tectonic plate slipping violently underneath the other in a zone 350 miles long and 150 miles wide. The wave raced across the ocean at the speed of 500 to 600 mph.

A factor that saved the harbor from even more damage was the surge hit at low tide, keeping it within the breakwater. Plus a network of deep-sea warning sensors alerted the entire West Coast hours in advance of the surges from the magnitude 9.0 earthquake in Japan.

The town wasn’t forewarned on Good Friday, 1964, however when a magnitude 9.2 earthquake in Alaska’s Prince William Sound sent bigger surges down the coast. Crescent City bore the brunt, due to its offshore geography, position relative to the earthquake’s strike-line, underwater contours such as the Cobb Seamount, and the position of rivers near the city.

Within a two hours, four waves washed over Crescent City.

When finished, 289 buildings and businesses had been destroyed; 1000 cars and 25 large fishing vessels crushed; 11 people were confirmed dead, over 100 were injured, and numbers were missing; 60 blocks had been inundated with 30 city blocks destroyed in total.

Although most of the missing were later accounted for, not all were found. Authorities estimate the city received more damage from the tsunami on a block-by-block basis than did Anchorage from the initial earthquake.

It took the city years to recover from the 1964 Tsunami, with the help of Congressman Don Clausen, who secured federal aid for the ravaged town. There are also some who claim,Crescent City has never recovered and still others who say it never will.

This a matter of person opinion on those people’s part.

Another earthquake, measuring magnitude 8.2 rumbled in the Pacific Ocean, west of Eureka, November 8, 1980. A number of Del Norte residents report being able to walk out to Whaler’s Rock, jus’ off Pebble Beach in Crescent City, as the waters had receded that far, but they didn’t  report seeing surge waves.

This event was followed years later by a magnitude 6.5 and 6.6 aftershock April 25, 1992 off Cape Mendocino. Again the ocean recede into itself, and again there was lack of surge waves.

Then the city’s preparedness was tested June 14, 2005 when an earthquake measuring magnitude 7.0 occured 90 miles offshore. Reportedly, much of the city was evacuated in a matter of 20 minutes when a tsunami warning was issued, but no waves were reported.

Then on November 15, 2006, a magnitude 8.3 earthquake struck off Simushir Island in the Kuril Islands, in the western Pacific. A tsunami warning was issued but rescinded hours later. However, a surge from that quake did hit the harbor at Crescent City causing damage to three docks and several boats.

As this recent tsunami moved east, the wave’s energy bounced off a huge underwater ridge extending out from Mendocino, deflecting part of its energy toward Crescent City.

The deflection slowed the wave, but made it grow higher. And by moving into shallower water, its energy built even more. 

The first surges to hit the shore were small. But by bouncing back, they made the next surge bigger and so on.

When the biggest of the surges hit the tidal gauge, it measured 8.1 feet.

That bouncing amplification is what caught Dustin Weber at the mouth of the Klamath River. He and two friends thought the tsunami
was over after the first surge.

Weber was caught in the bigger surge that hit a couple of hours later. His body has not yet been found.


This is the second part of a two-part series which began with the story, “Karma.”

A friend, who shall remain nameless, and I were up to no good. It wasn’t all that unusual as we were always looking for new ways to get into trouble.

We were in a group of tree situated near the entrance to the Baptist church, jus’ south of the Trees of Mystery. It was in these trees that we decided to set up our little prank.

Together, we had climbed out into the branches of the trees as they overhung Highway 101. We tethered a scarecrow in among the branches and designed a release line using fishing string.

We didn’t have time to test to see if the scarecrow would work as we wanted. Instead we decided to climb down from the trees and hide and wait in some bushes at the base of one those trees.

Our wait wasn’t long, as heading northbound come a set of headlights. We had to guess when to yank on the fish line.

Too early and it wouldn’t be a surprise; to late and the driver of the car wouldn’t see the scarecrow at all. Our estimate, it turned out was perfect.

The scarecrow dropped in front of the car, sending the vehicle off the side of the road underneath where we were hidden. That’s when we saw it wasn’t some ordinary passenger car – but rather a sheriff’s cruiser.

Me and my nameless friend disappeared into the woods behind the church and used a little known trail to find our way back to Redwood Drive and my home.


This is part one of a two-part series. The second part is called, “Prank.”

At first it left me angry, but about a minute or so later I started laughing. That’s because I realized as a kid I had done pretty much the same thing.

It was jus’ after 11 at night and I was on my way to the radio station, heading east on Eagle Canyon, towards Pyramid Highway. And while it doesn’t happen very often, I am usually on the look out for that random coyote which might dash across the roadway in front of me.

I glanced down to turn on my truck’s radio – than looked back at the road – and there it was.

Reacting as quick as possible, I stepped on my brakes and down shifted, hoping to slow myself enough to not hit it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.


I drove right over it.

Immediately, I knew something wasn’t right about what I had struck. It didn’t sound like any other animal I’ve ever accidentally run over.

Driving slower than what I can walk at a normal pace, I allowed my truck to roll forward. That’s when I saw the cardboard cut out of a cat, with it’s back hunched upward as if in fright.

It was taped to the roadway with duct-tape and it popped right back onto place. I heard myself swearing at whoever had set thing little surprise up.

Then like I said, a minute or so later I start laughing as I thought, “Karma.”

Following the Long Wave’s Wake

It’s very difficult to sit at the news desk, hundreds of mile away and witness at a distance, events that effect friends and former neighbors in a place that is all too familiar to me. I don’t keep my love for all things Del Norte County, California, a secret — preferring instead to wear my upbringing like a heart on my sleeve.

To that end, and wishing to somehow emulate the late George Merriman, who spent much of his journalistic life writing of the county on a first-hand basis, I’ve pulled together as much information as I could on the recent tsunami to strike the coast of Del Norte. All I can do is imagine — for I’m feeling disconnected from the land and sea that I love as much as I do the high desert in which I now live.

Fishermen who had purposely put-out to sea before a tsunami hit Crescent City’s harbor, landed small loads of crab as the curious came to survey the damage and cleanup crews readied their gear.  And while those cleanup crews assembled, divers could not go into the water and work boats could not maneuver until the  surges were completely done.

The damage came as a series of powerful surges pounded the harbor throughout the day and into the night.  Those waves funneled into the harbor, creating fast-moving currents that shattered docks, wrested boats from their moorings and brought possible ruin to an already struggling economy. 

And as gawker’s looked on and fishermen plied their trade, California’s Governor Jerry Brown issued a state of emergency for Del Norte, Humboldt, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties due to the tsunami. State officials conferring with the U.S. Coast Guard say the damage is estimated to be at least $50 million along the entire coast of California.

About 80 percent of  Crescent City’s docks once sheltering 140 boats, are gone. At least eight vessels sunk, and one damaged while an unmanned sailboat sucked out of the harbor ran aground, first on the north jetty, then later further down the coast.

University of Nevada-Reno seismologists say the swells that swept into Crescent City were the highest to hit the U.S., at jus’ over eight-feet. Furthermore experts with the U.S. Geological Survey say the huge shake, caused by a shift in the tectonic plates deep underwater, has thrown the earth off its axis point by at least 10 centimeters, or 4 inches, shortening our days by about 1.26 millionths of a second.

Japan’s Meteorological Agency says it has upgraded the magnitude of the catastrophic earthquake to 9.0, up from an 8.8. However the U.S.G.S. measures the quake at magnitude 8.9, a number that has remained unchanged.

In 1964, a massive tsunami with waves estimated to be more than 20 feet in height, swept over Crescent City, taking with it 11 lives, the only people reported to have ever died directly due to a tsunami in the 48 continuous states. Unfortunately, history has a sad way of repeating itself.

Three people were swept out to sea while trying to take photos of the tsunami at the mouth of the Klamath River. Two were able to swim back to shore, however  25-year-old Dustin Weber, formerly of Bend, Oregon, remains missing and is presumed drown. Weber had jus’ moved to Klamath.

Meanwhile across the sea in Japan, the government has doubled the number of soldiers deployed in that country’s earthquake aid effort to 100,000 as it tries to help millions of survivors left without drinking water and electricity. One official says the death toll will likely exceed 10,000 in one state alone along the pulverized northeastern coast.

Finally, the threat of multiple meltdowns fuels a growing nuclear crisis in the earthquake and tsunami-devastated region in northeast Japan. A top official says one partial meltdown is probably already happening and operators are frantically trying to keep temperatures down at the power plant’s other units and prevent the disaster from growing even worse.

Knocking at Deaths Door

Clark County prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Min Chang and Keon Park, indicted in January on one count each of murder with use of a deadly weapon, armed robbery, first-degree kidnapping with use of a deadly weapon and two counts of conspiracy in the death of Young Park. Keon Park is not related to the victim.

Young Park’s body was discovered by hikers December 23 near Kingman Wash, about a mile from the O’Callaghan-Tillman Memorial Bridge. Authorities say the two men strangled and beat her with a wrench and then burned her body on the Arizona side of the Hoover Dam.

Young Park ran an escort business and brothel out of a home near Rainbow Boulevard and Desert Inn Road in Las Vegas. She reportedly owed Chang about $6,000 and Keon Park around $3,000.

Chang and Keon Park have confessed to their roles in the slaying.