Skip to main content

A year ago, Port Alberni issued a tsunami advisory after a massive earthquake jolted Chile.

Doug Havard called his adult children to warn them. Then he headed for high ground.

To his dismay, he noticed families flocking to the harbour to watch for rising waters.

Story continues below advertisement

The sight so enraged him that he wrote a letter to the editor of the Alberni Valley Times. Imagine bringing your children to a disaster.

Mr. Havard, 61, knows this about tsunamis: They cannot be outrun.

He knows because as a youth he had to flee the black, churning, unforgiving waters of the sea as they destroyed his family's home.

The shocking videos of the damage wrought by tsunamis in Japan last month revived memories in Port Alberni of a cold, dark and wet March weekend in 1964.

On the anniversary last week, snippets of 47-year-old newscasts were aired on the radio. Old timers at the local Tim Hortons reminisced about the night when the ocean came calling.

Mr. Havard was asked to recall a night he will never forget.

He was asleep in his shared second-floor bedroom when the family was roused after midnight on March 28. A neighbour alerted the family to what at the time was known as a tidal wave. A terrible earthquake had shaken Alaska and now the waters were coming.

Story continues below advertisement

"When we walked downstairs to the main floor, there was already water in the house, maybe two feet," he recalled. "It was pitch black. The power was out. All the furniture was floating. We had trouble getting the door open.

"I remember the carpet, an area rug, was floating and we were trying to walk on top of that."

The family home was below the grade of the street at the corner of Gertrude Street and Lathom Road, a low-lying area that in those days before the dike was built endured an annual flooding. In the distance, he could hear the whistle sounding at the pulp mill where his father worked as a welder.

"It was pretty cold. I had no shoes on. No shirt. Just pants."

The family, including five children, walked two blocks uphill as the waters continue to rise. The family piled into the bed of a pickup truck. They drove to a friend's home to spend the night.

They awoke to a topsy-turvy world.

Story continues below advertisement

Cars had been jammed beneath houses, some of which had been moved the length of three football fields from their foundations. Furniture, caked in mud, rested on front lawns.

The Havard home, like so many others, was a mess.

"We just shoveled everything we owned into the back of a truck," he said, "and took it to the dump."

The fire department hosed the interior of the house, so the family had rudimentary shelter. Soon after, they had a house built down the highway at Whiskey Creek, away from the 60-kilometre inlet that funneled roaring waters into an unsuspecting city.

Incredibly, no one died.

A report issued soon after the disaster by the province's civil defence co-ordinator described one chilling close call.

Story continues below advertisement

A man raced out to save his new convertible only to see two children floating past on a log. He abandoned his car to rescue the children, pushing the log to high ground, by which time water was up to his chest.

Six waves washed over the land that night, part of a wave surge that lasted 18 hours. The first wave was eight feet. An hour later, a second wave, higher still, roared onto streets at 386 km/h (240 m.p.h.), "smash[ing]everything in its path." Boats, buildings and automobiles were tossed about like plastic toys in a bathtub.

The waters did damage elsewhere.

At the Hesquiat village of Hot Springs Cove, northwest of Tofino, 16 of 18 houses were destroyed. About 40 people were rescued by boat.

At Amai, a logging hamlet on Kyuquot Sound, 37 residents were left homeless after their homes were destroyed. The waves also cut off their radio access. People spent two nights in the open.

At Zeballos, a one-time gold-mining village, some 30 homes were swept from their foundation. Silt and salt water caused damage to personal property. As a report on the disaster noted, "This group made its own emergency arrangements."

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Havard, an electrician by trade, is now a maintenance foreman for the school district. He has never lost his fear - or his respect - for the damage wrought by a tsunami.

"You cannot outrun it," he said. "It just keeps coming and it doesn't ever stop."

Today, the city has a sophisticated tsunami warning system, including radio-controlled public-address speakers. When they sound, residents are advised to head for high ground, not to go to the water's edge to wait their demise.



Special to The Globe and Mail

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter