Seniors remember Columbus Day Storm of 1962
Editor's note: West Linn Adult Community Center volunteer Patti McCoy sourced information for this column from the people quoted, Wikipedia, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), University of Washington, Wilsonville Public Librray and the Oregon Encyclopedia.
Typhoon Freda originated in the central Pacific Ocean on Oct. 3, 1962. Nine days later, it made U.S. landfall. By midday Friday, Oct. 12, 1962, that storm was hammering the Oregon Coast, where wind gusts measured at Oregon's Cape Blanco exceeded 179 mph. Mt. Hebo's radar station in the coast range reported 170 mph winds, and the storm was now heading toward the Willamette Valley. A gauge on Portland's Morrison Bridge put winds at 116 mph by 5 p.m. that day. This violent "perfect storm" would become known as the famous Columbus Day Storm. No Oregon storm before or since has wreaked so much damage. By sunrise the next day, the storm was blamed for at least 46 deaths, most in Oregon, and nearly 300 people were injured. The National Guard was called out to assist with the disaster.
Though 57 years have passed, time hasn't erased the memories. Columbus Day Storm recollections remain strong and clear for many seniors at the West Linn Adult Community Center.
West Linn resident Margaret DeJardin was 22 when it hit and she remembers the day vividly. Her father had suffered a stroke earlier that day and was at Oregon City Hospital, then on Washington at 10th St. The winds, Margaret recalls, were blowing furiously outside the hospital that afternoon when she glanced out the window and witnessed a large tree up the hill, uprooted by wind, land on a property nearby. Between her father's stroke (he would pass away several weeks later) and the storm, Margaret's world was turned upside down that day.
Anne Josey was a 35-year-old RN working the swing shift at the same hospital. She recalls walking from her Bolton area home that afternoon across the Arch Bridge to Oregon City Hospital. Late afternoon, with winds building, a man was admitted for emergency appendectomy. During the operation, the surgery went dark. The storm had knocked their power out. The team resumed the surgery with aid from a lantern until the emergency generator restored power. "For a few minutes there," said Anne, "it was a little bit of complete chaos!" Notably, Anne still lives in the West Linn home she, her husband and son were living in that day 57 years ago.
Dick Hunt, volunteer computer teacher at WLACC, was a 27-year-old sheet metal worker. He returned home after work to wife Luella and their babies, only to see shingles flying off their roof. They remember driving to Luella's mother's home in Old Willamette area, where Luella and the babies would stay for the next week. "The storm did a lot of damage," Dick recalls, "but I remember it brought a lot of new business to the sheet metal shop."
Dave Rood, a wood carver at the WLACC today, was a 31-year-old mailman with the Lake Grove Post Office. "It was ominous, I'll tell you, really scary," he recalls, when he exited the post office late that afternoon. He and wife Sandy had a newly built home in Shadow Wood Park, what is today the Stafford Hamlet. Dave's drive home was blocked by fallen trees, so he parked at his neighbor's. He ran on to his home, while the wind continued its brutal assault. But their house proved safe and accessible that day. Dave had cleared his property of big trees during home construction (fearing risks in a bad storm), and stored the firewood, so he had plenty of fuel to keep the neighborhood warm. Their power wasn't restored for two weeks.
West Linn's Donna Baker was just 18. Leaving work, she got off her bus at Lloyd Center to walk home. People were scurrying around and shouting at her. She was confused until someone ran over and told her to use extreme care because live electric wires were down on the road. She cautiously hurried along and got home safely.
Gladstone resident Wayne Sutton was a 29-year-old insurance adjustor with Olympic Insurance. "I'm telling you, the undamaged home was the exception in the Willamette Valley after that storm," said Wayne.
Lake Oswego had 4,000 homes in its city limits back then. The storm damaged 70%, or 2,800 of those homes. Many automobiles sustained damage, most from fallen trees, and valley livestock also suffered greatly, crushed under wind-collapsed structures. A staggering 11.2 billion board feet of timber would come down that day, enough lumber to build 8,889 homes of 2,000 sq. ft. each.
Oregon's storm damage exceeded $200 million, in excess of $1.7 billion in 2019 dollars. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company named the Columbus Day storm the country's worst natural disaster of 1962.
The lunch menu at the WLACC this week features glazed ham, scalloped potatoes, vegetable medley and apple pie on Friday, Nov. 1; pot roast, mashed potatoes, vegetable medley and chocolate cream pie on Monday, Nov. 4 and birthday brunch with meat and veggie scramble, bacon, Yukon gold potatoes and fruit salad on Wednesday, Nov. 6. Cost is $5 per person. Lunch is served at noon.
The WLACC is located at 1180 Rosemont Road, West Linn. Call 503-557-4704 for more information.
Columnist Patti McCoy, a West Linn resident for 34 years, has been volunteering at the WLACC for ten years.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.