Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Wednesday, March 27 @ 12:06 p.m. / Community, Emergencies

Crescent City Candlelight Vigil to Commemorate '64 Tsunami

The bronze sculpture, the centerpiece of the Tsunami Memorial Fountain, was reinstalled earlier this month thanks to Steve's Welding, Spencer Electric, Hemmingsen contracting and Crescent City public works. | Photo courtesy of Crescent City

Crescent City will mark the 60th anniversary of the Good Friday Earthquake and Tsunami with a memorial vigil on Thursday.

The event will be held from 5-7 p.m. starting at the Cultural Center, 1001 Front Street. It will include a presentation about the 1964 tsunami by Cal Poly Humboldt professor emeritus Lori Dengler as well as a walk through the city’s Tsunami Walking Tour.

The memorial will conclude with a candlelight vigil at the newly reinstalled fountain at Tsunami Plaza, according to City Manager Eric Wier.

“There’s a lot of really great audio that we’re fortunate to have captured,” Wier said of the Tsunami Walking Tour. “There’s Bob Ames talking about his first-hand experience, Bill Stamps Sr. talking about being in the radio tower.”

Spawned by a magnitude 9.2 earthquake that struck in Prince William Sound, Alaska, the tsunami killed 11 people, injured 60 and destroyed 30 city blocks, said Dennis Powers, author of “The Raging Sea” who gave a presentation before the Crescent City Council last week.

The first surges rolled into Crescent City at just before midnight with the fourth and largest wave to hit in the early morning hours of March 28, 1964.

“This was a very big national story including when you have [2006] with the Kuril Islands and 2011 with the Japanese tsunami, Crescent City really does come in nationally,” Powers told the City Council.

Photos of the damage made the cover of Life, Powers said, and stories of heroism and survival appeared in the Reader’s Digest.

California governor Pat Brown toured the area the next morning and President Lyndon Johnson declared the area a disaster. The Red Cross responded as did California Highway Patrol and the Salvation Army. Meanwhile people in Medford and Grants Pass opened up their homes to those that were displaced, Powers said.

“Here’s what really stood out, 200 men and women without the word going out from Crescent City showed up in the morning with their pickaxes, their tractors, their hands and started cleaning up,” he said. “That was the community spirit.”

Ames operated the Bob Ames Store at 2nd and L streets when the tidal wave hit. In an audio recording, Ames said he and his family first heard of the impending tsunami from a news report that interrupted “the fights that we were watching.”

The report informed them that an earthquake in Alaska had generated a tsunami and it was best to stay away from Downtown Crescent City, Ames said. He said his mother told him there was water in his store and she was worried about Ames’s son who was in the downtown area.

Ames went to the downtown area to help clean up and corral his kids when the second and third wave struck.

“We were mopping up when my brother Burt came back and said ‘We got to get out of here, the water is up on the window,’” Ames said. “I went to look and it was like looking into an aquarium. The water was about 4 feet up on the windows. We decided we couldn’t get out so we went upstairs to a little storage area.”

Ames watched from the upstairs area as his town succumbed to the surges, saying “it was looking like war.” They escaped toward Safeway in waist-high water.

Stamps owned and operated KPOD-AM from 1963 until he passed in 2005 and coined the phrase “Comeback Town USA.” According to one of the audio recordings former mayor Ron Gastineau gathered for the tsunami tour, Ames got that idea from local business owners confident that they’d bounce back.

Crescent City worked with interpretive specialist Susan Jurasz and her firm Sea Reach last year to revitalize the Tsunami Walking Tour


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