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."