Cannon Beach emergency committee reconsiders escape plan

A tsunami evacuation map presents the downtown pedestrian route. Will people be able to reach assembly sites?

CANNON BEACH — When a tsunami washes over Cannon Beach, where will the nearly 7,000 estimated survivors go?

They first will head to 10 assembly areas plotted out by the city’s emergency preparedness committee. But, while those assembly areas are in places that should be safe from high water, they aren’t outfitted with the supplies necessary to ensure survival.

Although city officials originally planned to immediately move survivors from the assembly areas to three cache sites where barrels containing residents’ personal supplies have been stored, that plan is being reconsidered.

Instead, the assembly sites will have the temporary shelters, food, water and communications gear necessary to help people for a few days until the initial crisis has subdued.

A map distributed by Les Wierson, a member of the emergency committee, during the committee’s work session earlier this month, shows that the roads leading to the cache sites, as well as U.S. Highway 101, will be closed due to debris. The debris — fallen trees from the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake that will trigger the tsunami and buildings, cars and other objects deposited by the tsunami — will prevent easy access to the barrels.

“Less than 20 percent of the survivors can reach a cache site in a reasonable or safe time,” Wierson said in a letter to the committee.

“The highway will have a tremendous amount of debris,” he told the committee during the meeting. “It’s going to have to be taken out, and it will take a tremendous amount of time.”

The highway overpass at Sunset Boulevard may collapse, and some substations might be destroyed, he added. For awhile, only experienced hikers might be able to reach the caches on the north side, at Elk Creek Road in midtown and at South Wind in Tolovana, where an emergency shelter is planned eventually.

In a 2011 study, it was determined that if a tsunami hit Cannon Beach on a summer day, 6,729 people might reach the 10 assembly sites.

The study was conducted by Harry Yeh, an Oregon State University professor of civil and construction engineering with a specialty in tsunami-related hazards. Yeh reached his conclusions by using a computer model of where residents and visitors might be when the tsunami arrives and how long it would take to reach the nearest assembly area.

Yeh estimated that the three most populated assembly areas would be at the Cannon Beach Bible Church on Hills Lane along with nearby Spruce Street Arbor Lane, reached by a combined total of 1,980 people; mid-Tolovana at Surfcrest Street east of the highway (1,582 people); and Eighth Street and Ecola Park Road on the north end (1,015 people).

Other assembly areas are at Yukon Street and milepost 30 (880 people), the highway at Tolovana Mainline Road (549), east Sixth Street and Old Cannon Beach Road (357), Haystack Heights and East Chinook Street (357), Elk Creek Road east of the highway (200) and Sunset Boulevard at the highway (100).

The committee is considering establishing an assembly “super site” just south of the Bible Church on state Department of Transportation property between the church and Arbor Lane.

The committee decided to focus initially on preparing the first three assembly areas to make sure they are safe and that temporary shelters, water, food and communications are available.

But committee members said an overall plan is needed that shows how the cache sites and the assembly areas are to be used and what supplies are needed. More people also should be recruited to fill vacancies on the committee and to help out in local neighborhoods, they said.

“I’ve been getting a little frustrated; we seem to be going in circles,” said committee member Paula Vetter.

The group discussed how difficult it was to coordinate the emergency preparedness committee efforts with other groups in the city that also are preparing for disasters.

“Somehow, we need to get the city, the committees and the volunteers all on board,” City Manager Brant Kucera told the group.



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