October 20, 2017

iPentimento | 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History – Disasters


Seattle earthquake aftermath 1965

I barely missed my first disaster by a year.  That was the 1949 earthquake here in western Washington.  Well, maybe I didn’t miss it completely since my mom was probably pregnant with me at the time.  Since I was conceived most likely in January of 1950 and the state was experiencing …

Record low temperatures and heavy snow plague Washington state for three weeks beginning on January 12, 1950.

…it was probably a good time to stay in bed and keep warm, don’t you think?

I don’t know if they were ‘disasters’ or not, but I remember we had some pretty deep snows when I was in grade school.  Deep enough that I was worried I’d get in over my head. Hey, I was a little girl and not so tall you know!


1965 Tacoma/Seattle Earthquake

OK, let’s get to it and I’ll tell you the first real disaster I experienced.  It was the earthquake of 1965 which was coincidentally 6.5 MAG.  I was in study hall in the lunch room at Tumwater High School when it began.  It happened that I was sitting on the last row of tables at the back of the room nearest the large plate glass windows.  None of the windows broke, but it was in the middle of the tremor that a huge plaster art piece fell off the wall above the folding curtain and crashed to the floor jangling already shaky nerves.

I got my first lesson in the ‘herd instinct’ that day too. Mr. Zahn, our study hall teacher had never been in an earthquake (he said later) and so when the shaking was all over he walked out in the hallway to head to the office.  He just didn’t count on a whole herd of us following him!  He shooed us all back to the hallway by the lunchroom and then went off again to the office.  I learned something else about myself that day.  As scared and shaky as I was after the quake, I remember some girls were almost hysterical and I was comforting one of them, telling her not to cry.  I probably fell apart later.  That’s my usual reaction.


Tornadoes, More Quakes, and Storms

I’m not putting all of these disaster recollections in chronological order, so bear with me here.  Before the quake of 1965, there was a killer wind storm we lived through too.  It was named the Columbus Day Storm of 1963, and it was a whopper.   I was in 8th grade at the time and I remember getting out of school that afternoon and coming down the steps of the back door of Michael T. Simmons Junior High in Tumwater and thinking it was unusually windy.  I had no idea of what was to come…

My brother and I got home from school that Friday and Mom had already been alerted by the radio that there was a storm coming.  None of us would know just how wild that night was going to be.  Our heat source at the time was an old Quaker oil stove.  It had a damper on the side of the vent pipe that went into the chimney and on normal days that thing would flap now and then as it opened and closed when the wind blew across the top of the chimney.  When the winds got up to gale force that night that thing really got a workout.  Morning brought a whole new world of surprises.  Our power pole at the end of our driveway had blown down, as had two others in line with it, just like dominoes.  The power had been out for hours and the power lines laying across our yard were being held up off the ground by our telephone wire. We lost trees, and probably some of the shakes off the roof, but our biggest catastrophe was that we were without power for three weeks because of those poles that were knocked down.

In 1973 we were living in Clinton, Iowa and I was just learning what it was like to live in tornado country.  Luckily, the house we were renting had a basement because every time the wind would come up and the tornado sirens went off, I grabbed Greg and cowered down there until the coast was clear.  Jim happened to be home during one storm, which was fortunate because it was the worst one I’d been in yet.  The radar said there were funnel clouds sighted north of us and we headed to the basement.  When it was over we headed outside to assess the damages and the ground was just white with hail. Our chimney had blown off and I think there was a bird that mistakenly had flown down into it to get out of the wind. We heard some flapping around when we were in the basement, but didn’t figure out what it was until days later.  There was a cleanout in the basement for the bottom of the chimney with a little door.  When Jim opened the door there was the poor little dead wayward bird.

And last, but not least, the most recent disaster was our February earthquake of 2001 that registered 6.8 MAG.  I was in the family room, as was the cat, and when the house started shaking, I was running out of the room and he was running in.  We just about collided at the doorway into the room.  I wanted to be at the other end of the house, away from the hot water heater in the garage and the fireplace chimney that could possibly fall into the living room or family room.  What was weird was, this earthquake lasted a really long time.  I’d made my dash down the hallway and was standing in a doorway watching the two pictures over the fireplace dancing wildly back and forth and the house just kept on rockin’.  When it did, my phone rang and it was our son Greg in California.  He asked if I was OK, and said he had been on the phone with a client in Seattle when the quake started and she told him she had to get under her desk.  They hung up and he called me right away.


Columbus Day windstorm disaster blows Olympic Peninsula and Puget Sound on October 12, 1962.

HistoryLink.org Essay 5325 – by By David Wilma, February 28, 2003


52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History

Week 10: Disasters. Did you experience any natural disasters in your lifetime? Tell us about them. If not, then discuss these events that happened to parents, grandparents or others in your family.

This challenge runs from Saturday, March 5, 2011 through Friday, March 11, 2011.

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog (http://wetree.blogspot.com/) is the originator of the challenge.  Thanks also to Thomas MacEntee for further promoting it.  We’re all Geneabloggers.



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