Most residents know the facts, but for those whose families were not in Del Norte County in the early morning hours of that Good Friday: The quake that shook Prince William Sound, Alaska and generated the tsunami registered 8.5 on the Pasadena scale. At the time, it was the most severe quake recorded in North America.
Its waves reached Crescent City at 12:04 a.m. Police officers, deputies, highway patrolmen, firemen, U.S. Coast Guard and volunteer citizens saved many lives. In some cases, those rescued never knew who had helped them.
As the waves were wreaking havoc, some residents drove to the scene to help or observe, only to be caught up in the next wave. When the series of waves subsided in Crescent City, 11 had died and three were missing. A Klamath resident also died.
Seaside Hospital, then Crescent City’s medical facility, received 12 in-patient and 12 out-patient flood victims. The facility’s telephones were out for about four hours as frantic loved ones tried to locate the missing.
Although the newest part of the harbor in 1964, was in better shape, it too sustained extensive damage. Much of the damage came from huge logs and the concrete, 40-ton doluses that acted as battering rams as they washed like toothpicks through the town.
Assistant County Engineer Cliff Niessen reported that the maximum crest of the wave was 20.78 feet. The waves damaged a total of 289 homes and businesses, damage totaled $16 million.
Financial aid to families reached $51,876. One-hundred nine applications for assistance in Crescent City received $42,922. In Orick three applications received $858, in Gold Beach two applications received $1,265, and in Seaside, 13 received $6,831.
In the same year that a tsunami ravaged Crescent City, rising waters also ravaged other areas of Del Norte County. This time, instead of ocean waves pummeling the land, it was river currents rushing down the mountains and through the valleys that devastated the area in 1964.
During the Christmas months, storms rolling in off the Pacific combined with warm weather caused snow in the mountains to melt and the Smith and Klamath Rivers to swell to unprecedented heights. The 1964 flood was the second 100-year flood to occur in less than a decade.
In 1955, a flood forced residents in Klamath, Klamath Glen and Orick to evacuate their homes and convinced President Dwight D. Eisenhower to declare the area a “major disaster area.”
Hundred-year floods don’t occur every 100 years. Rather, the name is a statistical probability saying that any given year there is a 1-in-100 chance there will a flood of this size.
Though flood gauges were swept away during the 1964 flood, estimates suggest that the flood waters crested eight to 10 feet higher than they did in 1955. According to a Red Cross survey, nearly 850 homes were destroyed and 3,000 people left homeless after the 1964 flood.
Damages were estimated at $40 million. This time, on Christmas Eve, a new president, Lyndon B. Johnson, declared the region a disaster area.
Several bridges over the Smith River were washed away, as well as sections of the Douglas Memorial Bridge over the Klamath River (the bears stood their ground). The only way into Crescent City was from Brookings since the bridge over the Chetco River was not washed away with the flood waters.
Mud, sand and silt caked the roadways and covered the foundations of homes that no longer had houses. Logs and debris were once again stacked along the Crescent City beaches while the Klamath townsite was completely obliterated and abandoned.
The flood of 1964, coupled with the deadly tsunami earlier that year, changed the landscape and the history of Del Norte County forever.
Twenty years after the 1964 Tidewave , Wally Griffin published a book “Crescent City’s Dark Disaster,” chronicling the events and showcasing photos of the natural disaster that killed 12 Del Norte County residents.
From that night came a new moniker for Crescent City, the “comeback town,” coined by Bill Stamps Sr. Stamps Sr. was taken off the air when the waves shorted out the equipment. “Dark Disaster” credits Mason and Virginia Dever of KPLY, who stayed on the air all night to broadcast the latest news to those who could hear them.