The first few days as we had begun our vacation at the beach in Rockaway, Oregon there had been thoughts of tsunami on my mind. The weekend before, my aunt from Indonesia had been telling us stories and showing pictures of the devastation in Asia. So my sister and I had been sure to look at the tsunami guide in our room. And once as we were out on the beach she had commented lightly, “If all the water goes away [as it did in-between the two tsunami waves in some parts of Asia], run.” On Monday they had tested the tsunami sirens (most of them worked! :-) ) and several times I’d found my thoughts going to tsunamis as I gazed over the ocean.
At a little after 8:00 p.m. on June 14, 2005, my mom, sister, and I were out reading on the beach, waiting for the sunset, when the tsunami alarm went off. The alarm nearest to us was not going off, so we were a bit confused. Most people began moving slowly off the beach and we decided it would be safest to do the same.
“Everything looks so normal,” my sister commented, looking out on the blue sky and calm ocean.
“That’s how it was in Asia,” I remembered hearing. “It was a beautiful calm day. And then, bam! There was the wave.”
I hurried in the office of the place we were staying and asked the lady who worked there if she knew what was going on. The siren had stopped by the time I got in there.
“Do you know why the siren down the beach was on?”
“No,” she shrugged carelessly. “The siren next to us doesn’t work, though.”
“It isn’t the right day for a drill. Do the sirens normally go off occasionally?”
“No. But they would be going constantly if it was a real alarm,” she said, with continuing nonchalance.
So I shrugged and we headed back out to the beach. We had just settled back on our log when we noticed a Coast Guard van driving down the beach with his lights flashing. We had seen them patrolling before, so we weren’t much worried. But when it got near we could faintly hear over the loud speaker, “...leave the beach...tsunami...” We began trotting toward our hotel room. Part way there we met some people who had been closer to the van. “What did he say?!”
“Evacuate the beach. An earthquake just hit California. We have thirty minutes.”
I rushed over to a couple who didn’t seem concerned to make sure they knew.
“Is it a drill?” they wondered.
“No!” I told them.
I ran to the office, told the lady (managing to keep from saying, “I told you so!” :-) and ran to our room. Bursting in to Dad who was watching a basketball game on TV, I cried breathlessly, “A tsunami is coming. We have thirty minutes!”
We madly scrambled around. I grabbed extra socks and underwear, my pocket New Testament, a big bag of nuts, and bottled water. Most importantly we made sure we had Mom’s medications. She had a kidney transplant four years ago and keeping on a regular medicine schedule is the difference between her life or death.
I grabbed a pocket knife (I knew I packed it for a reason!) and at the last minute added my crocheting in case we had a long wait. Thrusting on socks and tennis shoes, I grabbed a jacket and ran out the door.
I wondered if I ought to knock on all the doors of the resort. But it seemed fairly deserted, so I went to the car.
After some frantic “Where are the car keys?!? Who has the keys!?” we were finally ready.
“The tsunami info said we should walk, not take the car,” my sister urged us. “The evacuation route is four blocks east to 6th Street.”
“Mom can’t walk that much,” Dad called. “We’ll have to climb the hill, too.” So we piled into the car.
Soon we saw evacuation signs to follow and reached a gravel road lined with cars. Abandoning the car, we set out up the steep gravel road among a straggling line of people. Cars continued to pass us and we wondered if we had been right to walk. I was grateful I was wearing long pants and good shoes as we maneuvered through waist-high brush to get out of the way of the vehicles.
About then I realized I would need to go to the bathroom before too long. I lamented the fact that I hadn’t thought to bring a roll of toilet paper.
We hadn’t gotten far on our hurried trek up the hill when Mom began having to stop for breath. I was getting worried about her when, finally, a vehicle paused next to us. “Want a ride?” the man asked. “No use getting a heart attack on the way up there.”
We helped her into the rig, tears of thankfulness springing to my eyes.
I was beginning to pant, also, as we continued to climb. I was glad I had grabbed two waters for myself so I could drink half of one to try to soothe my raw throat. Dad asked us if we were doing fine and we agreed that we could make it to the top fine. But just then another vehicle stopped and asked if we wanted a ride. We squeezed in gratefully. I hadn’t realized how tired I was until I got a chance to rest.
The couple who gave us a ride told us the radio said there had been a 7.4 earthquake in California and that they were evacuating the whole coast from the Bay area (in CA) to Vancouver Island (in Canada). So far there was no tsunami.
Reaching the top of the hill, a spectacular view of Rockaway and the ocean spread beneath us. It was comforting to be able to see the ocean and town. Halfway up the hill we had been surrounded by trees and for all we knew the town could have been swept away.
The view was surreally peaceful. But the eerie wail of the sirens floated on the wind, assuring us that danger was present.
We set our stuff on the ground and rested, chatting with the folks around us as we watched the ocean, trying not to imagine a towering wave appearing on the horizon. How odd to be watching the sunset from the top of the hill instead of out on the beach.
“I’m going to go find a tree,” one lady laughed. “Preferably one that needs watered!” We chuckled and I again lamented not grabbing toilet paper. “I have a roll of paper towels,” she remembered.
We tried to use our cell phones, then. My dad’s sisters happened to be vacationing at the camp ground over the next hill and I was worried that they hadn’t heard the warning. He was able to talk to one of them and was assured that she, too, had headed for the hills. His other sister, however, was in the next town over. She was trying to get through the police barricade to reach her twin. I tried to call my married sister to let loved-ones know we were on the highest hill we could find! But by then the lines were jammed and I couldn’t get through.
A bit later the lady returned from ‘watering the tree’. “Ladies,” she announced. “I have set up a bathroom up that way.” I eyed her. I would be glad to use some paper towels, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to use the same tree, thanks just the same! But the lady continued, “I put up a curtain. There’s a bucket with a liner, paper towels, and hand sanitizer.” Wow! And I thought I was prepared with my nuts and water.
Just then someone announced that they had heard that we might not get an all clear until two o’clock in the morning. I turned to the lady, “I’ll definitely be needing that toilet, then. Thank you!”
I wondered if we would have a chance to pray with the group as we waited into the night. I had been praying for the West Coast’s safety as I climbed the hill, but it would be neat to pray together and maybe read aloud from the Bible.
We asked a man if he would be willing to turn on his car radio to hear the news. He turned it up loudly just in time for us all to hear, “We repeat--an all clear has been issued. It is now safe to return to low-lying areas. We now return to the regularly scheduled music.”
We stared at each other. “And I just got the toilet set up!” the lady cried. We laughed and began straggling back down the hills. The adventure was safely over.
A family offered us a ride and mom and I clambered into the flat back of their van. “We saw you at the restaurant the other day,” the woman in the front of the van told us. I peered toward them in the dusky light and spotted the two girls with their curly brown hair.
“The girls with the matching outfits!” I remembered. We had chatted at the restaurant as we paid our bill.
As we drove down, we exchanged stories and discussed things we would do differently next time. The youngest girl was sad at having left her princess doll behind and we all agreed that toys and toilet paper were necessities!
Reaching our car at about 9:45 p.m., we arrived in our room just in time to hear our own adventure playing on the evening news!
As I laid in bed I reflected on the many things to be thankful for that evening. I was thankful that our family had been together; thankful that we had been close enough to our room to gather a few necessities; Thankful that the alarm had not come in the middle of the night; thankful for the kindness of strangers to give us lifts in their cars; thankful that, should we have needed it, there was a wonderful “toilet” available; and, most of all, thankful that there was no tsunami that day. During the whole evening God gave a calm and I never felt strong fear or anxiety--just awareness.
The next day I returned to the beach, surveying it. The footsteps we had made as we had hurried from our log were still there, high up on the beach. Everything was as we had left it the night before. My mom and sister pointed up at the sky then--a perfect rainbow formed a complete circle around the sun.
“Thank you, God,” I whispered. It seemed to be a special gift from Him. A promise that this time our small corner of the earth would not be covered with water. This time we were spared.