Report from Lietta Ruger: Storm Causes Complete Infrastructure Collapse in Pacific Co.

[Note: see previous story by Arthur Ruger: Inconvenient Truths, Washington State and Willapa Bay.]

I just spoke with Lietta Ruger, one of Washblog's editors, and she asked me to post a little summary of our conversation. She plans to post something more in-depth later.

She and Arthur Ruger live in the Willapa Bay community in Bay Center. There is no locally owned broadcast media in the area, and so they rely primarily on King 5 TV for their storm warnings. KIRO and KOMO generally don't provide coverage on their area. She said that no warnings came through mainstream media on the severe impacts that their community was expected to face from the impending storm last weekend. It was only because they happen to subscribe to what she describes as a tiny newspaper, a weekly called The Chinook Observer, that she learned her community was facing perhaps "the storm of the decade."

Having received this one warning, she and Arthur brought out their candles and blankets and cooked up the food in their refrigerator and battened down the hatches - just in case.  The storm hit on Sunday and the three of them - including Lietta's mother - stayed indoors for two days as winds up to 119 miles an hour raged outside.  There was no electricity, no phone service, no cellphone service.  After the storm subsided, the roads were so impassible in every direction, and the power outage and the lack of emergency service so complete -- that as far as people in her community knew, they might have separated from the rest of the United States and floated off into the Pacific Ocean.

It wasn't until yesterday that a local store selling crank radios opened and she and Arthur were able to tune into coverage from Astoria, Oregon to find out the extent of the damage to the rest of Washington state.

Even then, most of the stores remained locked, the social services office, where emergency help is usually offered, remained closed and dark. The gas pumps, which run on electricity, don't work. People who have medical emergencies are out of luck. And at least one woman did die, when her house caught on fire from the candles she was using to provide light.

There was no safe way to travel by water, either, because the water was moving too fast and there were too many other dangers, low tree branches, objects, etc.  Even the county's weather monitoring equipment failed.  We know that winds reached 119 mph in Bay Center and 120 mph in Astoria, she said, because private citizens had equipment that withstood the wind, while the wind broke the county's equipment.

The problem wasn't with community members. People helped each other quite a bit. In fact, the owner of the Bay Center grocery store, a woman named Lori, drove from Long Beach through all the hazards to Bay Center and fired up the generator and stove and cooked soups and made sandwiches to serve the people in that community. And her husband and son did that in the other grocery stores owned by the family in other nearby communities.  But now that the electricity has come back on, and she's learned that the rest of the world is still here -- though Grays Harbon and Lewis Counties appear to have suffered even more -- now she's feeling pretty upset.

This is a warning, she said, that we need to get our act together on emergency preparedness. We are experiencing the effects of climate change and we can expect more. This kind of storm is not on the usual scale. It's a clear signal, as well, that we need some major changes in how we do media.   Pacific County needs its own broadcast media. We talked for awhile about testimony at the recent FCC hearing in Seattle that local communities are endangered by the centralization of broadcast media. That is absolutely correct, she said. Now that she has a little time to think, it's hitting her, the extent of this collapse of infrastructure: the lack of emergency preparedness and media coverage and the blackout on all services during the storm or for the 2 days afterwards. "This complete and utter failure, she said, "is unacceptable."

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I was worried about Arthur and Lietta after seeing the reports about how hard hit Pacific County was and that the early news reports said the entire county was without electricity.

I agree with Lietta about needing to get our act together when it comes to emergency preparedness.

As individuals, we are often told in case of any disaster, we need to be prepared to survive for 72 hours without services.  However, we are now seeing instances (like the Dec. 2006 windstorm as well as the current situation) when our government entities don't always seem to be able to get services functioning again within 3 days.

I'm not sure what the answer should be. Of course, disaster planning and preparedness by our governments is critically important, but how much is enough?  

by Cherisse on Thu Dec 06, 2007 at 04:59:26 PM PST

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We have to be. We're an island. Click on the link to learn more.

If perception is reality, then the world must be flat and the sun must revolve around it.

by ivan on Thu Dec 06, 2007 at 05:04:11 PM PST

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We knew we had it bad but as bad as it was for us, I learned today for the first time who had it worse.

Today I had my first internet access since Sunday night and I've seen the pictures out of Lewis County. at work today for the first time this week  I heard genuine horror stories about destruction and suffering east of Raymond on Hwy 6 in Pe Ell and Doty and on out to I-5 at exit 77 in Chehalis.

Raymond still did not have power today when I got to work. South Bend was up and Bay Center went back up while I was driving to work.

I do have to laugh when I heard King 5 honk about how they're news we can count on. We were aware of what was coming from the Chinook Observer which is Pacific County's official newspaper even tho it's not even half the size of the Aberdeen Daily World.

Having read the Observer article, I clicked on my Yahoo Weather Bay Center link and saw essentially the same bland rain + winds gusting 20-40 mph that King, Komo and Kiro's weekend weather broadcasters had been dealing out very casually all weekend long.

However, there was also a "severe weather warning" link on that Yahoo Weather Page for Bay Center and that warning confirmed the story in the Observer.

We were once more watching King 5 news Sunday night knowing what was coming because outside we could hear the winds "gusting from 20-40". Suddenly, in the middle of that weather report we heard a loud snap and lost our power. At first we thought a wire to the house had snapped because we could still see a few lights around us. Then total darkness. Two transformers had blown and the game was afoot.

But the weather reporter had made no mention of it. When the fancy map had trickled over to the coast once again we heard what seemed like almost a casual throw away reference to wind gusts 20-40 miles possibly higher overnight.

So we owe NBC, CBS and ABC Seattle absolutely no gratitude for any preparations made that helped us through. As to whether or not Lewis and Grays Harbor County residents were misinformed by the MSM networks, I'll leave it to them.

I received a copy today of the letter the governor sent to the president requesting disaster-area status. Sent because we need Bush to make the declaration in order to issue emergency food assistance to more residents who normally don't qualify for food.

How about that? It's a good thing there isn't a way for Bush to privatize food issuance in Washington eh? Maybe lower rescue pay to prevailing wage too. Would we see more of Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine in action?

But then I've just watched the KOMO news film review of cash raised ($60,000 plus $5,000 in gift cards) and 7 semi's full of relief supplies.

Maybe I shouldn't be so hasty cause those who watch MSM are demonstrating generous hearts .... eh?

You sure you ain't staking too much on yer theories? Not enough common sense?

by Arthur Ruger on Thu Dec 06, 2007 at 07:12:04 PM PST

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Thanks Noemie, for getting the conversation we shared today as a report posted to Washblog. You did a nice job of gathering most all that I shared with you, and since I was a tad bit excite-able in the sharing, that you got it almost 100% accurate is a listening feat!  I wanted to make a couple of corrections and additions.


though Whatcom and Lewis Counties appear to have suffered even more
 what I said was not Whatcom, rather that Grays Harbor and Lewis Counties appear to have suffered even more, and all the news I am finding now that I once again have internet access bears that out. Both counties have been declared by Governor Gregoire to be disaster areas and she has requested help from the President for these two Washington counties.

  And I have to give a bit tip of the hat to Lori, marvelous woman, along with her husband, who made sure that families in both Bay Center and Long Beach in Pacific County had access to hot soup, hot coffee, hot cider and sandwiches via the  businesses she and her husband operate in Seaview (Long Beach) and the newly opened convenience grocery store in Bay Center.  Laurie's Homestead Breakfast House in Seaview (Long Beach); 4214 Pacific Way, Seaview, WA 98644, (360) 642-7171.  She also has a bakery business and her husband operates Chico Pizza - all on Pacific Way in Seaview.  


Source for citing the woman who died in Pacific County; CNN - US, Dec 6, 2007 reports;

Eight people were killed in the Pacific Northwest as a result of the storm and damages were likely to reach into the billions of dollars, but remained to be tallied.


Officials learned late Wednesday of an eighth death related to the storm. A person died in a fire that was ignited by a candle in a house without electricity in Pacific County, said Mark Clemens, a spokesman at the state emergency management center.

Six people died in Washington, and another two died in Oregon in deaths blamed on the storm.

The Wind Meter Broke at 81 MPH
Seattle Times

"It's the worst blow I've seen since the [1962] Columbus Day storm," said Chuck Winn, manager of Sid's Supermarket in Long Beach, Pacific County. "And this one is lasting a lot longer than that one did."

In Grays Harbor County, Dave Johnson, captain at the Aberdeen Police Department, said sustained winds were recorded at 81 mph.

"They might have gone higher than that, but the wind meter broke at that point," Johnson said. "There are a lot of roofs that have been completely ripped off homes and businesses."


Out on the coast, it was the wind that wreaked the most havoc.

By late Monday, 90 percent of Grays Harbor County and much of Pacific County were without power. Officials warned that it will be days before power is restored.

In Montesano, residents were urged to boil their tap water because the city's reservoir was badly damaged by the storm.

As I told Noemie, and she reported, we were cut off from all communication for several days.  Since we had battery operated radio, we could get scratchy reception from community operated radio station in Astoria. 92 FM on our dial.   Listening to that station report on conditions in Astoria and up towards WA in Long Beach in Pacific County, I was struck by the absence of reports on our area which is also in Pacific County, about 30 miles from Long Beach.  And no reports on Raymond and South Bend, also in North Pacific County.  

One morning I was able to get clear reception to a station in Aberdeen - Grays Harbor County, 1320 AM on our dial. With these 2 local stations I was able to learn about conditions in the counties close by - Grays Harbor is our neighbor county in Washington, and Astoria is our neighbor county in Oregon.  I was able to rather assess how difficult and challenging the situation was in those two areas, so it was fairly easy to conclude that same-like challenges existed where we live in North Pacific County.

My concern though, as the days passed with no information from within the county, was that perhaps information was not gettting out of the county either.  I started to worry that our families would become anxious about our well being when I could hear from the radio reports that some of the stories about Pacific Northwest storm were now at national level news media.  There was no way to get word to them that we were okay, and no way to know if Emergency Services even knew our status should our families try to learn about us.

 As it turned out, after 3 days without land line or cell phone services, no internet, Arthur's daughter and my sister were frantic and biting nails, anxious to learn what happened to us.  They were hearing the reports of storm devastation in our region and with no word from us, they didn't know if we were alive or not.  

I already knew that this week on Tues, Dec 4, my daughter would be having a hard time because her husband had left for Iraq that very day. We knew he was leaving, but the departure date was uncertain, first part of December.  She learned the week before that the date was now firmed up as  Dec 4, departure. I was worried she had been trying to contact me, and likely getting my voice mail and that she wouldn't realize that our phone lines were out, or what our status was given the reports of Pacific Northwest storm destruction that were out by then in media.  

 When the phones came back on Wednesday morning, Arthur's daughter reached us and messengered to all the other family members that we were safe.  Later that day, we were able to connect with all the families to reassure them we were okay.  As one of my daughters told me, from the media reports it sounded like we drowned, or dropped off the planet.  

 We had brought my mother to stay with us through the holidays, and we are blessed that she is in good enough health not to need immediate emergency medical services.  Having her with us though, opened my thoughts to concerns about what if she had needed medical help and we were locked down here in Pacific County, not knowing if we had hospital access.  

Since we were among the fortunate, and there are so many more among our neighbors and neighboring counties (Lewis and Grays Harbor are two of our border counties) who lost so much, I'm not complaining about what amounts to our less significant inconveniences.  More, it seems to me that there are lessons to be taken from this experience all around.  The warnings were not there, the news media was not there and the emergency services, while perhaps they  did the best they could, at least here in Pacific County, it was woefully inadequate from our perspective having experienced it as we have through this past week.  

The convergence of the weather-related events happening over the last several days and our experience of being so entirely cut off, of watching the infrastructure in our county collapse has me contemplative....  

On the Surge in Iraq "--we have set the bar so low it's buried in the sand at this point." - Barack Obama

by Lietta Ruger on Thu Dec 06, 2007 at 09:32:02 PM PST

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I just want to add something thoughtful about something downright useless and of little socially redeeming value.

The radio station in Astoria is a public radio station FM 92. The Astoria station had very limited SW Washington news and is very much like KPLU in Tacoma so it broadcast NPR national news reports.

The closest AM radio station is 1320 - 40 miles north of us in Aberdeen. That AM station in Aberdeen had more information about what was going on even closer to home ... more local news on the hour and half hour.

But no matter how urgently we needed to know, there was a price to pay to get that news.

In order to "be there" the moment of the news broadcast, we had to "be there" early so as not to miss anything. We tuned in at 5 or 10 minutes before the hour and half hour.

What did we have to endure on AM 1320?

You guessed it.

The first time it was Glen Beck, the next time Rush and the last time O'Reilly - all of whom worked hard to convince me that all of our troubles including this storm have been caused by liberals.

Never were broadcasters revealed as more worthless, useless and downright wasteful than in those moments when we needed news but had to tolerate self-serving bull shit before we got what we needed.

You sure you ain't staking too much on yer theories? Not enough common sense?

by Arthur Ruger on Fri Dec 07, 2007 at 06:00:12 AM PST

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Why the loss of communications explanation from Pacific County Emergency Operations. Of course, we didn't have access to this information, but for an after the fact, it helps explain why some parts of the Pacific County infrastructure failed.  (bold is mine)

from Chinook Observer (serves Long Beach peninsula, Pacific County)

Local agencies react to storm as best they can despite tough conditions
12/5/2007 10:17:00 PM

PACIFIC COUNTY - According to County Commissioner Jon Kaino, Pacific County's Emergency Operations Center was activated early Monday morning, but was unable to reach much of the county without any means of direct communication with residents.

The center was able to release some information to Seattle and Olympia radio stations, but such radio frequencies couldn't reach much of south county during the sustained 70 to 80 mph winds Monday. With phone lines down and cell towers inoperable, information became scarce across southwest Washington and the Oregon Coast.

Conditions were so dangerous part of the time that even physically delivering information was impossible, particularly considering the condition of area streets and highways.

At 8:15 a.m. Monday, an emergency dispatcher said "Due to the weather, pretty much every highway is blocked in Pacific County." Major closures included Interstate 5, Washington State Route 4, Oregon Highways 30 and 26, and U.S. 101. Most are now open, except for SR6 between Raymond and Centralia, which may be out of commission for weeks due to a major landslide near Elma.

"Activation and response went fairly well, what was lacking was communication," explains Kaino. "We were doing things, but no one knew it. We had shelters and help from the National Guard, but we had no communication to le