The Oregon Coast, March 11, 2011

As Jer’s last post noted, we were awakened in our coast hotel at 5 AM by a gentle knock on the door, telling us of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

We were at the Sylvia Beach Hotel at Newport, Oregon. The Sylvia sits on a high bluff in Nye Beach, directly above the sand.

The Sylvia is marked by the arrow in the photo above;  the spit of land in the foreground is directly across from an elongated pile of rocks, probably an old jetty of some sort. I like to watch the ruined jetty from the Sylvia Beach’s third floor common room and balcony, using the long run of rocks as a marker for high and low tides. Ordinarily, it helps me make “a place of the space” of boundless ocean. The photo below was taken on our second day at the Coast, from above and the other side of that spit of rocky land: the old ruins of jetty can be seen to the right as the ocean storms beyond it. I was fascinated by the March storm that rattled at the Sylvia’s windows and wanted to catch a bit of it in a photo.

Above is a photo of high tide, taken from the third floor balcony of the Sylvia Beach Hotel.

The weather for our stay was mixed, as it often is this year. I had an exhilarating hike in a pouring rain and howling wind to Bay City (through the town of Nye Beach and Newport and then back along the beach),  and Jer found the wi-fi at the Newport Library to be perfectly adequate for his computing. By Thursday evening I had done enough beach gazing and walking, and we were both ready to return to Portland. And then came that 5 AM knock on the door.

As Jer said, the tsunami warning and evacuation was orderly; the staff at the hotel were calm and efficient and took care of the cats as well as the people. We returned to the hotel about 9 and waited for the rest of the hotel crew to come in; the evacuation staff told us that breakfast would be late but provided as usual.  All seemed a bit anticlimactic.

We waited for breakfast in the third floor “library”, the commons,  facing the water, when I noticed a yellow-slickered fellow walking out on the old jetty. Not many people were on the beach but it all looked normal — until I saw that the jetty was being engulfed with water and the yellow-spot was crouched, out toward the end of the elongated rock ruins, on the top-most rock. The water was higher than we had seen it during any high tides this week. We watched as a couple of guys ran down the beach and stumbled out through the rocks toward him; he didn’t get washed away; his rescuers went into the receding water and helped him back to the sand, and they retreated up the stairs along the edge of the bluff.

However, as we watched, the water seemed to be receding further and further out:

The ocean end of the jetty is pictured above, along with rock outcrops that parallel the shore. I hadn’t seen those outcroppings before — never saw a tide this low before — and it suddenly dawned on all of us that this was an example, small but impressive, of the receding of the ocean before a tsunami surge. I went out to the balcony and photographed the return of the water, using the jetty as a marker:

It was only after we had returned to Portland that we heard that the surges of water continued all day, and that south of Newport, in Crescent City, California  and Brookings, Oregon, the water smashed boats in the marinas and swept at least one person away.

What we saw was trifling. Yet it gave us a sense of awe, seeing that vast expanse of glistening wet sand, which minutes before had had rolling waves and minutes after was again filled with water. The water didn’t pour in, but it came quickly enough that unlike a tidal recession, I could catch in it about a five-minute photography session.

These small surges continued for most of the day but as we drove north up the coast to get the highway inland from Lincoln City, we had no idea that the warnings continued.

After getting home, I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening glued to the computer, still trembling a bit. The scenes from Japan are horrifying; nothing a person can say can make sense of such destruction. I am grateful to be back in Portland, away from the ocean for a bit, more aware now than ever before, of its pitiless awesome power. –June


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2 Responses to The Oregon Coast, March 11, 2011

  1. Lia says:

    So glad you guys are safe! I just watched some video of the seawater coming into a Japanese city with impunity. Nature is amazing… worth a lot of respect.

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  2. Del says:

    I didn’t even think of the tsunami affecting you! Friends in Hawaii were uneventfully evacuated and returned safely to their home, but I haven’t heard anything about those in Bandon-by-the-Sea. Maybe they are traveling – hope to hear tomorrow. They are elderly, so I hope someone is keeping an eye on them. Everyone in SCal is checking their disaster kits – just in case.

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